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Trotter v. State

Supreme Court of Delaware

November 21, 2018

JOHN E. TROTTER, Defendant Below, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF DELAWARE, Plaintiff Below, Appellee.

          Submitted: September 21, 2018

          Court Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware Cr. ID Nos. 1607007011, 1608012612 (N)

          Before VALIHURA, VAUGHN, and SEITZ, Justices.

          ORDER

          JAMES T. VAUGHN, JR. JUSTICE.

         After consideration of the appellant's brief filed under Supreme Court Rule 26(c), his attorney's motion to withdraw, and the State's response, the Court concludes that:

(1) On October 3, 2017, the appellant, John E. Trotter, resolved two cases by pleading guilty to Assault in the Second Degree in Criminal ID No. 1607007011 and Drug Dealing (Tier 4), Conspiracy in the Second Degree, and Possession of a Destructive Weapon in Criminal ID No. 1608012612. On January 12, 2018, Trotter filed a pro se motion to withdraw his guilty plea. On February 16, 2018, the Superior Court denied the motion and sentenced Trotter to a total of eighteen years of Level V incarceration, suspended after eight years for Level II probation. This is Trotter's direct appeal.
(2) On appeal, Trotter's counsel ("Counsel") filed a brief and a motion to withdraw under Supreme Court Rule 26(c). Counsel asserts that, based upon a complete and careful examination of the record, there are no arguably appealable issues. Counsel informed Trotter of the provisions of Rule 26(c) and provided Trotter with a copy of the motion to withdraw and the accompanying brief.
(3) Counsel also informed Trotter of his right to identify any points he wished this Court to consider on appeal. Trotter has submitted arguments for this Court's consideration. The State has responded to Trotter's arguments and has moved to affirm the Superior Court's judgment.
(4) When reviewing a motion to withdraw and an accompanying brief under Rule 26(c), this Court must: (i) be satisfied that defense counsel has made a conscientious examination of the record and the law for arguable claims; and (ii) conduct its own review of the record and determine whether the appeal is so totally devoid of at least arguably appealable issues that it can be decided without an adversary presentation.[1]
(5) Trotter's arguments on appeal may be summarized as follows: (i) he was constructively deprived of his right to counsel and coerced into pleading guilty by the Superior Court's erroneous denial of his request for new counsel; (ii) he was coerced into pleading guilty by the Superior Court's improper participation in plea negotiations; (iii) the Superior Court erred in denying his motion to withdraw his guilty plea; and (iv) his right to a speedy trial was violated. After careful consideration, we find no merit to Trotter's appeal.
(6) The disposition of Trotter's claims depends upon this Court's determination of whether Trotter entered a knowing and voluntary guilty plea and whether the Superior Court erred in denying Trotter's motion to withdraw his guilty plea. A knowing and voluntary guilty plea waives any objection to alleged errors and defects before entry of the plea.[2] The record in this case reflects that Trotter knowingly and voluntarily entered his guilty plea.
(7) In the summer of 2017, Trotter and Counsel informed the Superior Court that Trotter was displeased with his counsel's representation. At an August 18, 2017 hearing and status conference, the Superior Court told Trotter that he would listen to his concerns and Counsel's comments, but warned him that a defendant's unhappiness with counsel would not typically entitle him to the appointment of new counsel. Instead, he would have the option of representing himself with standby counsel.
(8) Counsel told the Superior Court that the attorney-client relationship had been difficult because he was unable, until recently, to share much of the State's discovery material with Trotter due to the protective order. He admitted that he had recently lost his temper and yelled at Trotter because he would not consider a reasonable plea offer that was obtained after extensive negotiations with the State. Trotter expressed dissatisfaction with delays in the case, the fact that he had not seen all of the discovery, and Counsel's refusal to separate both of his cases, to move to sever his case from the cases of his co-defendants in Criminal ID No. 1608012612, and to file a motion to suppress.
(9) In response, the Superior Court noted that Criminal ID No. 1608012612 was complicated and involved multiple defendants, the former prosecutor had left and new prosecutors had to get up to speed on the case, Criminal ID No. 1607007011 and Criminal ID No. 1608012612 were separate cases with different trial dates, and co-defendants in cases involving the same facts and witnesses were often tried together. The Superior Court concluded that appointment ...

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