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State v. Schofield

Superior Court of Delaware

January 3, 2019

STATE OF DELAWARE
v.
LIAM M. SCHOFIELD Defendant.

          Submitted: October 29, 2018

         Upon Defendant's Motion for Postconviction Relief SUMMARILY DISMISSED

         Upon Defendant's Request for Appointment of Postconviction Counsel DENIED

          ORDER

          The Honorable Andrea L. Rocanelli, Judge.

         Upon consideration of the Motion for Postconviction Relief ("PCR Motion") filed by Defendant Liam M. Schofield ("Defendant"); Rule 61 of the Superior Court Criminal Rules of Procedure ("Rule 61"); the facts, arguments, and legal authorities set forth by Defendant; statutory and decisional law; and the entire record in this case, the Court hereby finds as follows:

         1. On August 31, 2016, Defendant was arrested near the Delaware Technical Community College campus in Wilmington and charged with possession of several weapons, including a concealed loaded firearm. On October 24, 2016, a grand jury issued an indictment for seven felony offenses, including three counts of Carrying a Concealed Deadly Weapon, Possession of a Firearm by a Person Prohibited, Possession of a Deadly Weapon by a Person Prohibited, Possession of Ammunition by a Person Prohibited, and Possession of a Weapon in a Safe School Zone ("Original Weapons Charges"). Defendant was appointed counsel.

         2. Defendant filed a motion to suppress any and all evidence seized following the stop, seizure, and search of his person on August 31, 2016, which led to the Original Weapons Charges. Defendant subsequently retained new counsel ("Hearing Counsel"). After a hearing ("Suppression Hearing") on June 16, 2017, the Court found there was reasonable articulable suspicion for the stop and probable cause for the arrest on the Original Weapons Charges, and denied the motion to suppress.

         3. Thereafter, Defendant terminated Hearing Counsel's representation and counsel was again appointed ("Defense Counsel").

         4. On July 25, 2017, Defendant pled guilty to one count of Carrying a Concealed Deadly Weapon and one count of Possession of a Weapon in a School Zone. By Order dated July 25, 2017, effective July 12, 2017, a suspended sentence was imposed for the Original Weapons Charges and Defendant was placed on community-based supervision ("July 25, 2017 Sentencing Order").

         5. Shortly after Defendant was released from Level V and placed on probation, during a home visit by Probation & Parole, Defendant was found to be in possession of a firearm and ammunition in violation of the terms of Defendant's probation. On September 14, 2017, Defendant was committed in default of bail on the new weapons charges (Case ID No. 1709009074) ("New Weapons Charges").

         6. On February 22, 2018, Defendant filed a timely motion for postconviction relief as a self-represented litigant with regard to the July 25, 2017 Sentencing Order for the Original Weapons Charges. Defendant also filed a motion for appointment of postconviction relief counsel. By Order dated April 9, 2018, the Court granted Defendant's request for appointment of counsel ("Postconviction Counsel").

         7. On June 19, 2018, Defendant plead guilty to Possession of Ammunition by a Person Prohibited in connection with the New Weapons Charges. At that time, Defendant acknowledged that the conviction for the New Weapons Charges would operate as a violation of probation ("VOP") as a matter of law for the Defendant's probation on the Original Weapons Charges.

         8. On June 26, 2018, in connection with the plea agreement on the New Weapons Charges and resolution of the VOP, Postconviction Counsel withdrew the pending motion for postconviction relief in order to allow Defendant to focus on his mental health treatment and probation.

         9. Defendant was sentenced by Order dated July 31, 2018, effective September 14, 2017, in connection with the New Weapons Charges and the VOP on the Original Weapons Charges, to Level V with Level III GPS monitoring to follow. Defendant was also required to participate in and successfully complete the Mental Health Court program.

         10. On September 10, 2018, Defendant renewed his motion for postconviction relief by filing the PCR Motion that is currently before this Court. Defendant requested that the Court rule on the original motion that had been withdrawn. Defendant also filed a Motion for Appointment of Counsel.

         11. Defendant is challenging the July 25, 2017 Sentencing Order on the grounds that he was denied the right to effective assistance of counsel in connection with his guilty plea on the Original Weapons Charges and at the Suppression Hearing.

         12. Defendant filed the original motion for postconviction relief on February 22, 2018. Accordingly, the April 6, 2017 version of Rule 61 applies.[1]

         13. Postconviction relief is a "collateral remedy which provides an avenue for upsetting judgments that have otherwise become final."[2]

         14. To protect the finality of criminal convictions, the Court must consider the procedural requirements for relief set out under Rule 61(i) before addressing the merits of the motion.[3] Rule 61(i)(1) bars a motion for postconviction relief that is filed more than one year from a final judgment of conviction.[4] This bar is inapplicable as Defendant's PCR Motion is timely. [5] Rule 61(i)(2) bars successive motions for postconviction relief.[6] This bar is inapplicable as this is Defendant's first postconviction motion. Rule 61(i)(3) bars relief if the postconviction motion includes claims that were not asserted in prior proceedings leading to the final judgment, unless the movant shows cause for relief from the procedural bars and prejudice from a violation of the movant's rights.[7] Moreover, Rule 61(i)(4) bars relief if the postconviction motion includes grounds for relief formerly adjudicated in any proceeding leading to the judgment of conviction, in an appeal, or in a postconviction proceeding.[8] Rule 61(i)(3) and 61(i)(4) are inapplicable because Defendant's claims for ineffective assistance of counsel could not have been raised on direct appeal.[9] The procedural requirements of Rule 61(i) are satisfied. Accordingly, the Court will address Defendant's PCR Motion on the merits.

         15. The standard used to evaluate claims of ineffective counsel is the two-prong test articulated by the United States Supreme Court in Strickland v. Washington, [10] as adopted in Delaware.[11] Under Strickland, Defendant must show that (1) counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness; and (2) there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.[12] Failure to prove either prong will render the claim insufficient.[13] The Court shall dismiss entirely conclusory allegations of ineffective assistance.[14] The movant must provide concrete allegations of prejudice, including specifying the nature of the prejudice and the adverse effects actually suffered.[15]

         16. With respect to the first prong-the performance prong-the movant must overcome the strong presumption that counsel's conduct was professionally reasonable.[16] To satisfy the performance prong, Defendant must assert specific allegations establishing that counsel acted unreasonably as viewed against "prevailing professional norms."[17] With respect to the second prong-the prejudice prong-Defendant must show that "there is a reasonable probability ...


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