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Miller v. State

Supreme Court of Delaware

April 18, 2019

TREY M. MILLER, Defendant Below, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF DELAWARE, Plaintiff Below, Appellee.

          Submitted: February 13, 2019

          Court Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware I.D. Nos. 1203015202 (N) and 1208012177 (N)

          Before STRINE, Chief Justice; VALIHURA and VAUGHN, Justices.

          ORDER

          James T. Vaughn, Jr. Justice.

         On this 18th day of April 2019, upon consideration of the parties' briefs, oral argument, and the record of the case, it appears that:

         (1) The appellant, Trey M. Miller, appeals the Superior Court's denial of his motion to modify a sentence he received for violating the terms of his probation. On appeal, he contends that the sentence imposed was the result of a closed mind, judicial vindictiveness, or bias on the part of the sentencing judge. He urges us to vacate his sentence and remand for resentencing.

         (2) At the violation of probation hearing, the State recommended that Miller be sentenced to one year at Level V with no probation to follow. In its answering brief on appeal, the State calculates that the presumptive sentence under the Delaware Sentencing Accountability Commission's sentencing guidelines was three years and three months at Level V. The sentence imposed by the court, however, was eight years of unsuspended Level V time, followed by probation. This sentence significantly exceeded both the State's recommendation and the sentencing guidelines. In addition to arguing that the sentence was the result of a closed mind, judicial vindictiveness, or bias on the part of the judge, Miller contends that the judge was required, and failed, to (1) consider Miller's character and the nature of his probation violations and (2) give a sufficient explanation for imposing a penalty more severe than the penalty recommended by the State or the guidelines.

         (3) Because Miller's sentence is within the statutory limits and because Miller fails to point to any evidence of a closed mindedness, judicial vindictiveness, or bias on the part of the judge, we have concluded that the judgment of the Superior Court should be affirmed. It was within the Superior Court's discretion to impose a sentence within the statutory limits, and the court gave legitimate reasons for imposing a harsher sentence than the sentence recommended by the State or the guidelines.

         (4) On March 5, 2013, Miller pleaded guilty to Robbery in the Second Degree, Burglary in the Second Degree, Theft over $1, 500, and Conspiracy in the Second Degree. He was sentenced to five years at Level V, suspended after two years for two years at Level III on the robbery conviction. For the burglary conviction, he was sentenced to eight years at Level V, suspended after one year for two years at Level III. For the theft conviction, he was sentenced to two years at Level V, suspended for twelve months at Level III. And for the conspiracy conviction, he was sentenced to two years at Level V, suspended for twelve months at Level III.

         (5) On October 14, 2014, the Superior Court reviewed Miller's sentence, and he was released from Level V and began serving a period of Level III probation. Following his release, Miller violated his probation four times and failed to appear in the Superior Court on several occasions. On January 6, 2015, the Superior Court sentenced Miller for his first violation of probation to six months of unsuspended Level V time followed by probation. On April 26, 2016, the court sentenced Miller for his second violation of probation to a probationary term without any unsuspended Level V time. As for the other violations, Miller failed to appear at violation of probation hearings scheduled for September 2016, November 2016, January 2017, April 2017, August 2017, and February 2018.

         (6) On March 6, 2018, at the violation of probation hearing that led to this appeal, Miller admitted and the Superior Court found that he violated his probation by absconding from probation and failing to report for appointments at the Treatment Access Center. At the hearing, the court heard from the State, Miller's counsel, and Miller himself. Miller's probation officer recommended that Miller be sentenced to a total of one year at Level V and that he then be discharged from probation as unimproved. Miller presented mitigating circumstances for the court to consider. He explained that during the period of time when some of the probation violations occurred, he was grieving the loss of his three-month-old daughter, who had passed away in September 2016, and that he had not received any counseling to deal with this. Miller also noted that more recently, he had been working at a mushroom factory and was living with his grandparents, for whom he helped provide care. He asked the court to take into consideration the technical nature of his violations, the time he served for the underlying crimes, his drug addiction, which was compounded by the loss of his child, his employment status, and his family support and to consider a sentence of six months at Level V.

         (7) Following Miller's remarks, the court made comments and asked Miller some questions. The court noted that Miller did not appear to take probation or sentencing seriously and asked for an explanation as to why "[e]very time bail is posted for him, he does not come back like he's supposed to do."[1] The court further commented on his family's ability to post bail for him in the past and noted that, when this happened, he did not come back to court as required. The court stated to Miller, "apparently, you disregard the Court and everything that the Court has to say to you[, ] and your family is not able to control you."[2] The court also noted that Miller appeared to be attempting to "manipulate the Court."[3]

         (8) The court then sentenced Miller as follows. As to his robbery conviction, he was sentenced to three years at Level V; as to his burglary conviction, six years at Level V, suspended after three years for one year of Level IV home confinement, suspended after six months for six months at Level III; as to his theft conviction, two years at level V, suspended after one year for one year of Level IV home confinement, suspended after six months for six months at Level III; and as to his conspiracy conviction, two years at Level V, suspended after one year for one year of Level IV home confinement, suspended after six months for six months at Level III. All sentences of confinement were set to run consecutively, thus resulting in a total of eight years of unsuspended Level V confinement.

         (9) On March 19, 2018, Miller filed a motion for sentence reduction in which he challenged the length of the sentence. Noting its "considerable discretion over the appropriate grounds for a reduction of sentence" and Miller's criminal history, the Superior Court denied Miller's motion.[4] In denying his motion, the court explained that "his record reflects an inability or unwillingness to follow the rules of probation" and that "it does not appear as though his ...


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