April 24, 2019
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware, Cr. ID No.
appeal from the Superior Court. REVERSED and REMANDED.
J. Collins, Esquire, Collins & Associates, Wilmington,
Delaware, for Defendant Below, Appellant Martin Taylor.
J. Vella, Esquire, Department of Justice, Wilmington,
Delaware, for Plaintiff Below, Appellee State of Delaware.
VALIHURA, VAUGHN, and SEITZ, Justices.
the Superior Court adjudicates a defendant guilty but
mentally ill of a crime, the court must examine "all
appropriate reports"— including the presentence
investigation— and hold a hearing "on the sole
issue of the defendants mental illness." If the court
is satisfied that the "defendant did in fact have a
mental illness at the time of the offense to which the plea
is entered," the court can adjudicate the defendant
guilty but mentally ill of the crime. If the court is not
satisfied the defendant has a mental illness, or the facts do
not support the plea, then the trial judge "shall strike
such plea, or permit such plea to be withdrawn by the
Taylor appeared before a Superior Court judge and offered to
plead guilty but mentally ill for the July 2016 murder of
Whitney White. After his counsel told the court that Taylor
was competent to plead guilty, the court conducted a plea
colloquy with him but deferred accepting the plea until a
later sentencing hearing, when the court would have the
presentence investigation. The day after the hearing, Taylor
told his counsel to withdraw his plea. His counsel refused.
Taylor then made pro se requests to withdraw his
plea. The court would not consider them because Taylor had
sentencing hearing, Taylor addressed the court and sought
again to withdraw his plea. The trial judge refused to
consider Taylors request because Taylor
had counsel. Over Taylors objection, the court accepted the
guilty but mentally ill plea to manslaughter and possession
of a deadly weapon during commission of a felony, and
sentenced Taylor to 45 years in prison.
appeal, Taylor claims the Superior Court plea proceedings
were defective in several respects. First, the Superior Court
failed to follow the statutes "sole issue"
requirement by accepting Taylors plea and sentencing him in
the same hearing, and did not consider "all appropriate
reports" relevant to Taylors plea. Second, defense
counsel violated Taylors Sixth Amendment autonomy interest
when they refused to withdraw his plea before the court
accepted it. Third, the court should have honored Taylors
pro se request to withdraw his plea for the same
reason— to secure Taylors autonomy interest in his
plea decision before the court accepted the plea.
sympathize with the court and counsel in how to handle this
unusual and difficult case. The guilty but mentally ill plea
statute is confusing. It contemplates a single hearing to
review the plea, which must include a review of the
presentence investigation. But, the presentence investigation
is not available until after the plea hearing. The court and
counsel also struggled to deal with a defendant suffering
from a mental illness who sought to withdraw a plea that
counsel genuinely believed was in his best interest. And,
Taylor was caught between his counsel who would not withdraw
his plea, and a court rule that allowed the court to ignore
pro se filings when the accused has counsel.
appeal, we navigate this unusual sequence of events as
follows. First, Taylor waived his right to object to the
"sole issue" statutory requirement. The State and
counsel agreed that the plea hearing could be conducted in
two parts. Also, Taylor did not cooperate with the
presentence investigation, and any misstep under the statute
would not rise to plain error. Second, defense counsels
refusal to withdraw Taylors plea violated Taylors Sixth
Amendment autonomy interest to decide the objective of his
defense. Taylor had the final say whether to withdraw his
plea before the court accepted it. Having represented to the
court that Taylor was competent to plead guilty, defense
counsel should have followed Taylors demand to withdraw his
plea before the court accepted it. Finally, under Superior
Court Criminal Rule 11, before adjudicating a defendant
guilty but mentally ill by plea, the court must address the
defendant in open court and be satisfied that the defendant
is entering his plea knowingly, intelligently, and
voluntarily. Before the court accepted Taylors plea, he
objected. Thus, Taylor could not have entered his plea
voluntarily. We therefore vacate ...