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State v. Adkins

Superior Court of Delaware

July 16, 2019


          Submitted: April 8, 2019

         Cr. A. Nos. IN17-02-0859, IN17-02-0661, IN17-02-0863, IN17-02-0867

          Timothy G. Maguire, Deputy Attorney General

          Natalie S. Woloshin, Esquire

          Timothy J. Adkins, pro se


          Paul R. Wallace, Judge

         This 16th day of July, 2019, upon consideration of Timothy J. Adkins' Pro Se Motion for Postconviction Relief (D.I. 32); the State's Response thereto (D.I. 45); Attorney Natalie S. Woloshin's Affidavit (D.I. 43); Adkins' Supplement to his Motion (D.I. 42) and the record in this matter, it appears to the Court that:

         (1) On April 11, 2017, a grand jury indicted Timothy J. Adkins for two counts of Drug Dealing (marijuana and cocaine), two counts of Aggravated Possession (marijuana and cocaine), Conspiracy Second Degree, two counts of Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Felony ("PFDCF"), two counts of Possession of a Firearm by a Person Prohibited ("PFBPP"), Possession of Ammunition by a Person Prohibited ("PABPP"), Receiving a Stolen Firearm, and Possession of Drug Paraphernalia.[1]

         (2) The charges arose from a year-long investigation of Atkins and his co-defendants, Darnell Martin and Keith Mason, for transporting large quantities of marijuana across the country and selling drugs in and around Wilmington. The investigation led to the execution of a search warrant at 712 Dora Moors Lane in New Castle. Police found Adkins in the home's basement. Also found there were 247 grams of cocaine, four large duffle bags containing 21 l/2 kilos of marijuana, a money ledger, a money counter, a digital scale, drug packaging materials, and a firearm. In Atkins' car outside the home, detectives found another kilo of marijuana. Atkins admitted to the police that the drugs and gun were his.[2]

         (3) In November of 2017, Adkins pleaded guilty to Drug Dealing-Marijuana, Conspiracy Second Degree, Drug Dealing-Cocaine, and PFBPP.[3] The State agreed to seek application of Adkins' statutory habitual criminal status to only one of the charges.[4]

         (4) Adkins was sentenced almost a month later to: (a) ten years at Level V for the PFBPP charge; (b) six months at Level V (to be served under the provisions of the Habitual Criminal Act) for the cocaine dealing charge; (c) 25 years at Level V, suspended after two years for 23 years at Level IV (Work Release), suspended after six months for 18 months at Level III, for the marijuana dealing charge; and (d) two years at Level V, suspended for one year of Level III probation for the second degree conspiracy count.[5] He filed no direct appeal from his conviction or sentence.

         (5) Adkins has now filed the instant timely motion for postconviction relief under Superior Court Criminal Rule 61.

         (6) When considering applications for postconviction relief under its criminal rules, this Court addresses any applicable procedural bars before turning to the merits.[6] This policy protects the integrity of the Court's rules and the finality of its judgments. Addressing the merits of a case that does not meet procedural requirements effectively renders our procedural rules meaningless.[7]

         (7) Rule 61 sets forth procedural bars to postconviction claims, including that "[a]ny ground for relief that was not asserted in the proceedings leading to the judgment of conviction, as required by the rules of this court, is thereafter barred, unless the movant shows . . . [c]ause for relief from the procedural default and . . . [p]rejudice from violation of the movant's rights."[8] Adkins' failure to raise his third and fourth claims-i.e., his claim that the Court erred in accepting his plea and his "Brady violation"/prosecutorial misconduct complaint-either in this Court or on direct appeal prevents the Court from addressing them now unless Adkins shows cause for relief and prejudice from a violation of his rights. Adkins has demonstrated neither the requisite cause for relief nor prejudice. And so, these claims are barred Rule6l(i)(3).[9]

         (8) Rule 61(i)(3)'s bar is inapplicable to "claims [of] ineffective assistance of counsel, which could not have been raised in any direct appeal."[10] So the Court now considers those claims on their merits.

         (9) Adkins suggests in his motion that his trial/plea counsel, Natalie S. Woloshin, Esquire, provided ineffective assistance of counsel because she allegedly:

(a) failed to file either the "proper" pre-trial motions or other motions Adkins wanted her to file; and
(b) coerced Adkins into accepting a guilty plea.[11]

         (10) The Court entered an order to expand the record to include "any materials that respond to the specific [ineffective assistance of counsel] allegation relating to Woloshin's representation [of Adkins]."[12] On that same day, the Court denied Adkins' request for appointment of counsel to pursue his Rule 61 motion.[13]

         (11) An inmate who claims ineffective assistance of counsel must demonstrate that: (a) his defense counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, and (b) there is a reasonable probability that but for counsel's errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.[14] When addressing the prejudice prong of the ineffective assistance of counsel test in the context of a challenged guilty plea, a defendant must show "that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial."[15]

         (12) There is always a strong presumption that counsel's representation was reasonable, [16] and "[i]t is not this Court's function to second-guess reasonable [ ] tactics" engaged by trial or plea counsel.[17] Too, one claiming ineffective assistance "must make specific allegations of how defense counsel's conduct actually prejudiced the proceedings, rather than mere allegations of ineffectiveness."[18] And an inmate must satisfy the proof requirements of both prongs-deficient attorney performance and resulting prejudice-to succeed in making an ineffective assistance of counsel claim. Failure to do so on either prong will doom the claim, and the Court need not address the other.[19]

         (13) First, Adkins' claim that Woloshin failed to explore potential defenses and suppression claims is belied by the record. Adkins says Woloshin "was ineffective by not filing the proper pretrial motions" and failed to "prepar[e] effectively for [him] to go to trial."[20] Adkins provides neither support for these assertions nor an adequate explanation as to what may have been missed. A defendant's conclusory allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel do not establish that his counsel's representation was objectively unreasonable.[21] And contrary to Adkins's contentions, the record demonstrates that Woloshin met with Adkins regularly pre-trial, engaged in multiple discussions of the evidence, and reviewed numerous potential suppression arguments.[22] Then, as now, Adkins was fixated on the idea that if he could somehow convince the Court that his compatriot, Darnell Martin, was illegally stopped, then any information obtained from Martin's stop would have to be excluded from the Dora Moors Lane search warrant. In turn, Atkins suggests, the evidence surrounding Adkins when the police executed that warrant would have to be suppressed.[23]

         (14) The decision whether or not to include any particular legal argument in a motion to suppress is a strategic decision and a matter of professional judgment. Such a decision is not deficient representation if it is informed and reasonable.[24]Further, a defendant cannot demonstrate prejudice by defense counsel's failure to press a particular suppression claim if that argument were likely to fail.[25]

         (15) Woloshin did file a suppression motion attacking the Dora Moors Lane search warrant.[26] But after giving careful consideration to the illegal-codefedant-traffic-stop argument Atkins wanted to make, she choose not include it. Woloshin recognized the several weaknesses in Atkins' preferred argument: (a) he lacked standing to challenge Martin's traffic stop; (b) Martin, who did have standing, lost his own suppression hearing; and, (c) even without the Martin-stop averment, the search warrant for 712 Dora Moors Lane was supported by probable cause.[27] Atkins has not shown that Woloshin's professional decision to forgo this argument in her suppression motion was unreasonable;[28] nor can he ...

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