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Cuffee v. State

Supreme Court of Delaware

May 6, 2019

MICAH O. CUFFEE, Defendant Below, Appellant,
STATE OF DELAWARE, Plaintiff Below, Appellee.

          Submitted: March 15, 2019

          Court Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware Cr. ID No. 1209013919 (K)

          Before VALIHURA, SEITZ, and TRAYNOR, Justices.



         Upon consideration of the briefs of the parties and the record in this case, it appears to the Court that:

         (1) The defendant below-appellant, Micah O. Cuffee, has appealed the Superior Court's denial of his first motion for postconviction relief under Superior Court Criminal Rule 61. After careful consideration of the parties' briefs and the record, we affirm the Superior Court's judgment.

         (2) On August 7, 2013, a Superior Court jury found Cuffee guilty of Attempted Theft, Conspiracy in the Second Degree, and Criminal Mischief. After granting the State's petition to declare Cuffee a habitual offender, the Superior Court sentenced Cuffee to eight years of Level V incarceration for Attempted Theft, two years of Level V incarceration, suspended for one year of Level III probation, for Conspiracy in the Second Degree, and a fine of $250 for Criminal Mischief.

         (3) This Court affirmed Cuffee's convictions on direct appeal.[1] The Court described the events leading to Cuffee's convictions as follows:

On the night of September 19, 2012, a resident of a development located near Walker Road in Dover heard a vehicle, a screeching, metallic noise like something was being dragged, and voices outside the back of her townhouse. Office buildings, which were closed for the day, were located behind the caller's townhouse. The resident called 911 to report the noises at approximately 10:30 p.m. Corporal Gregory Hopkins and other members of the Dover police responded to the 911 call.
Initially, Hopkins and the other police officers checked businesses and communities along Walker Road for the source of the reported noises. Hopkins checked 1155 Walker Road and did not see anything there. Hopkins then went to the 911 caller's townhouse and spoke to her about what she had heard in order to pinpoint the location of the noises. Based on that conversation, Hopkins drove back to 1155 Walker Road, which was located behind the townhouse.
Hopkins walked around the building located at 1155 Walker Road and saw four, disconnected air conditioning units behind the building and near a shed. The air conditioners had been cut from the building located at 1155 Walker Road. Hopkins reported his findings and it was decided that he would stay in the area to conduct surveillance in case someone returned to pick up the disconnected air conditioners. Other officers set up a perimeter near Walker Road.
Shortly after Hopkins concealed himself under some trees to monitor the area where the air conditioners were located, he observed a maroon minivan, with no headlights on, driving in from Walker Road. After driving into the parking lot that was closest to the disconnected air conditioners, the minivan began backing up over a bed of rocks near the air conditioners and became stuck.
Hopkins watched the minivan occupants attempt to remove the minivan from the rocks. They were unsuccessful and called somebody for assistance. Although Hopkins could see the occupants of the minivan walk around it, he could not see them at all times. Hopkins observed a white pick-up truck drive in from Walker Road and tow the minivan off of the rocks. Cuffee's cousin, Walter Cuffee, testified that Cuffee called him the night of September 19, 2012 for assistance. Walter Cuffee drove his white pick-up truck to Walker Road, where he testified that he picked up Cuffee and Mark McDonald, and then helped Cuffee and McDonald tow the minivan from the rocks. After Hopkins watched the white pickup truck and maroon minivan leave the parking lot, he saw that the disconnected air conditioners were no longer where he had previously seen them. Hopkins radioed police units on Walker Road to report that the air conditioners had been taken and that both the white pick-up truck and maroon minivan should be stopped. Hopkins then walked around the area and saw that the air conditioners had been moved to the other side of the shed.
Police stopped the white pick-up truck and maroon minivan. Cuffee was driving the minivan and McDonald was the passenger. Both men were arrested. In a search of the minivan, the police found a pair of bolt cutters, Channellock pliers, a flashlight, and two pairs of work gloves. All of the seats, except for the driver seat and front passenger seat, had been removed from the minivan. Cuffee's daughter testified that she owned the minivan and that the equipment in the minivan belonged to her husband.[2]

         (4) On August 11, 2015, Cuffee filed a timely motion for postconviction relief. The motion was assigned to a Superior Court Commissioner. On October 28, 2015, Cuffee filed a motion to compel in which he sought to listen again to a CD of the 911 calls and police officers' radio communications from the night of his arrest. The State opposed the motion, arguing that Cuffee had already listened to the recordings during his direct appeal and had not established a basis to listen to the recordings again. The Commissioner denied Cuffee's motion.

         (5) After Cuffee supplemented and amended his motion for postconviction relief, his former counsel filed affidavits in response, and the State responded to the motion, the Commissioner issued a report and recommendation on August 7, 2017. The Commissioner found that Cuffee failed to overcome the Rule 61 procedural bars and recommended denial of his motion for postconviction relief. Cuffee objected to the Commissioner's report and recommendation. On November 13, 2017, after de novo review of the record, the ...

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