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State v. Stellies

Superior Court of Delaware, Sussex

November 28, 2018

State of Delaware
v.
Michael C. Stellies

          N448 STATE MAIL Mr. Michael C. Stelljes.

         Dear Mr. Stelljes:

         I have reviewed your motion for postconviction relief, and it is denied.[1]

         You pled guilty to driving under the influence and two counts of vehicular assault on September 20, 2018. The sentence reflected the plea agreement. On the driving under the influence charge, you were imprisoned for 18 months with the balance suspended after serving 90 days under the provisions of 11 Del.C. § 4204(k) for level 2 probation. On each of the vehicular assault in the second degree charges, a one year sentence was entered suspended for probation.[2]

         Upon release from level 5, you started probation. On January 18, 2018, your probation officer filed a violation report.[3] It alleged that you violated conditions 1, 2, 3, 7 and 9. Condition 1 reported an arrest for shoplifting which was pending in Kent County, Case ID #1801003194; The docket is attached as Exhibit B. You made reference to a drug paraphernalia charge in Court of Common Pleas Kent County Case ID 1802008651. The docket is attached as Exhibit C. There was no mention of the charge in the violation report. Condition 2 alleged that you failed to report the shoplifting arrest and police contact; Condition 3 claimed you failed to report to probation on 12/19/17; Condition 7 alleged you tested positive for illegal drugs without a prescription and Condition 9 alleged a violation of a zero tolerance condition related to the drug use. A hearing was held on February 23, 2018 and you were represented by Mr. Jeffery McLane, Esquire, a public defender.[4] At his request, Condition 1 was not adjudicated because the charge was pending. You admitted violating all the remaining conditions. A TASC evaluation was requested by me to learn further information, and sentencing was deferred.

         On March 23, 2018, a sentencing hearing was held.[5] Again, you were represented by the public defender's office. TASC assessed you and presented a verbal report. Your background with drugs was discussed. The recommendation was for closer supervision. This could be at either the Crest Program or at level 4 home confinement with TASC and an Intensive Outpatient Program ("IOP"). Your probation officer recommended the Crest Program. Ultimately, you were sentenced to level 5 imprisonment suspended for completion of Crest.

         On March 28, 2018, you arrived at the Central Violation of Probation Center to begin the Residential Substance Abuse Treatment Program. On April 2, 2018, you were discharged for refusing to participate. Your refusal was the basis for a second violation of probation report. On April 9, 2018, a hearing was held and you were again represented by the public defender's office.[6] As you refused to do the program you were resentenced to the level 5 Key Program as recommended by your probation officer.

         On your appearances for the three hearing dates, your public defender advised you of the appeal rights to the Supreme Court.[7] No appeal was filed. However, you did file two requests for reduction of the sentence under Rule 35 which were denied.[8] A Supreme Court appeal was not filed from them. Presently, you continue to be in the Key Program.

         In your Rule 61 motion, you claim your public defender was ineffective. The statement is made: "counsel never told me to or advised me if I wanted to wait the charges to be dealt with ..." This claim necessarily focuses on the February 23 date. Apparently, you surmise that the hearing would have been postponed; you would not have been sent to the Crest Program, and, therefore, you would not have been in a position to refuse to participate.

         Such vague, speculative and conclusory allegations are never sufficient for Rule 61 relief. Further, the pending shoplifting charge played no role in the proceedings. Your admissions to violating the remaining conditions provided an ample basis to support the new sentence. Furthermore, your hearing would never have been postponed to await a decision on the shoplifting charge where you have an illegal drug and failure to comply with supervision background. The Court has authority to adjudicate new charges in a violation hearing because trial and probation standards are different. Indeed a later acquittal of new charges after an earlier violation of them in a probation hearing does not change the result.[9]

         Moreover, to prevail on an ineffectiveness of counsel basis, the two-prong test laid out by the United States Supreme Court in Strickland v. Washington[10] must be satisfied. Somerville v. State explained the applicable standard in the context of a guilty plea that is roughly analogous to a probation admission:

Strickland requires a defendant to show that: (1) counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, and (2) counsel's actions were so prejudicial that there was a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, the defendant would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial...[R]eview is subject to a strong presumption that counsel's conduct was professionally reasonable. The purpose of this presumption is to eliminate the distorting effects of hindsight in examining a strategic course of conduct that may have been within the range of professional reasonableness at the time.[11]

         You have not met either prong of the analysis. You made no showing to prove that your counsel acted below an objective standard of reasonableness when providing assistance at the time of the violation hearing. No judge would have delayed the violation proceedings, and defense counsel made no error and acted within recognized standards of competence. There is no showing that you would not have admitted the violation but for counsel's alleged error in not seeking a postponement.

         You also complain about the lack of access to a law library. This kind of claim is procedurally barred under Criminal Rule 6l(i)(3), [12] (with the exception of the ineffective assistance of counsel claim). This provision states that "any ground for relief that was not asserted in the proceedings leading up to the judgment of conviction, as required by the rules of this court, is thereafter barred, unless the movant shows (A) cause for relief from the procedural default and (B) prejudice from violation of the movant's rights."[13] In order to show cause, you must allege more than the fact that a claim was not raised earlier in the process.[14] You must show that "some external impediment" prohibited raising the claim.[15] Further, to show prejudice, you must demonstrate that there was a "substantial likelihood" that, had the claim been raised, the outcome of the case would have been different.[16] Here, the violation hearing would not have been delayed. Assuming without ...


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