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Prince v. State

Supreme Court of Delaware

July 25, 2019

RADEE PRINCE, Defendant Below, Appellant,
STATE OF DELAWARE, Plaintiff Below, Appellee.

          Submitted: May 17, 2019

          Court Below-Superior Court of the State of Delaware Cr. ID No. 1710010993A

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



         After consideration of the parties' briefs and the record on appeal, it appears to the Court that:

         (1) In May 2018, a Superior Court jury found the defendant-appellant, Radee Prince, guilty of attempted manslaughter and other crimes arising out of a shooting in Wilmington. The Superior Court sentenced Prince to a total of forty years of unsuspended time in prison, followed by probation. This is Prince's direct appeal.

         (2) The evidence presented at trial reflects that on October 18, 2017, Rashan Baul (also known as Jason Baul) was meeting with Cort Hughes at Baul's auto-sales business when Prince entered the building, opened the door to the small office where Baul and Hughes were meeting, and shot Baul.

         (3) A bullet initially struck Baul in the face and lodged in his spine. Prince backed out of the office and stood outside the door, attempting to clear a jam in the gun. Baul struggled on the floor of the office, pushing the desk against the door. Prince then forcefully opened the door and fired again. Prince left the building, but then returned, pushed open the office door again, and fired again. At least one additional shot hit Baul and lodged in his pelvic area. As Baul and Prince struggled near the door to the office, Hughes managed to escape and fled the building. Prince then left the scene, saying "bleed out, bitch." Baul crawled to the door of the building and called for help. As his employees came to his aid, Baul reported that Prince, whom he had known for many years, was the shooter.

         (4) Ebony Wilson, one of Baul's employees, also identified Prince as the shooter. She had known Prince since childhood. On the morning of the shooting, Wilson was walking toward the building after collecting some information from cars on the lot when she saw Prince. They greeted each other by name, and Prince asked her if Baul was inside. She said that she did not know. Prince then entered the building, and Wilson saw him pull out a gun. She ran to warn another employee, and then heard a shot. She and the other employee fled. When Wilson saw a police car approaching, she ran back toward the building and saw Baul lying in the doorway. Emergency personnel transported Baul to the hospital, where he was treated for his injuries and survived, although he required extensive follow-up treatment and suffered long-term effects from his wounds.

         (5) Video footage from surveillance cameras located in and around the building also showed Prince arriving on the scene and shooting into the office. Other evidence confirmed that Prince drove from Maryland to Delaware shortly before the shooting, purchased ammunition from a Wal-Mart store, exchanged that ammunition for a different type, and then proceeded to Baul's auto lot.

         (6) Prince did not contend at trial that he was not the shooter. Rather, his defense was that he had learned that Baul had hired someone to kill him, and that he therefore shot Baul in self-defense or under extreme emotional distress. The defense centered on evidence of a build-up of tension between Prince and Baul, beginning around the time that Baul testified in a criminal trial against Prince's brother, Aaron Bruton, who was also Baul's best friend. Prince testified that he had called Baul a rat, and that Baul had then hired some people to assault him outside of a nightclub, as a result of which Prince had a broken back and a severe laceration to his forehead, and was placed in a medically induced coma.

         (7) Prince and Baul also testified about an incident that occurred in January 2016, after Bruton was released from prison. Bruton, Baul, and Prince were at the home of Prince's father, and Baul and Prince got into a fight. The testimony regarding the reason for the fight and what happened next differed somewhat, but it is clear that at some point Baul and Prince left the house and Baul drove a truck into Prince. Baul was going to testify in a criminal case against Prince in connection with that incident, but the case was ultimately dismissed.

         (8) Prince, his sister, his niece, and a family friend also testified that in May 2016, as Baul and Prince were leaving Prince's father's funeral, Baul took a gun out of the console of his car and aimed it at Prince's face. Baul denied having a gun at the funeral.

         (9) Prince further testified that in 2016 he heard that Baul had offered $10, 000 to have Prince killed. Prince said that he moved to Elkton, Maryland, so that Baul would not know where to find him. He testified that on the Saturday before the shooting, he saw someone who knew Baul standing outside a neighbor's house and became fearful that Baul would learn where he lived. He therefore decided to go to Baul's business to talk to him, but said that when he walked into the office, Baul reached toward his pocket-Prince believed to reach for a gun-and Prince opened fire.

         (10) To rebut Prince's position that his past interactions with Baul supported a finding of self-defense or extreme emotional distress, the State sought to introduce evidence that on the morning of October 18, 2017, before going to Baul's business, Prince shot and killed three people and injured others at his workplace in Edgewood, Maryland. The State argued that Prince had put his state of mind at issue, and that the probative value of the evidence of the Maryland shooting was sufficient to overcome its prejudicial nature. The Superior Court weighed the highly prejudicial nature of the evidence against its conclusion that the evidence was also highly probative of Prince's state of mind, and held that the evidence was admissible under D.R.E. 403.[1] The court also then performed an analysis under D.R.E. 404(b) and Getz v. State[2] and ruled that the evidence was admissible under that analysis as well.[3]

         (11) The State then questioned Prince about the Maryland shooting. Prince asserted his Fifth Amendment privilege. After the defense rested, the State introduced evidence of the Maryland shooting, including a video of the incident; the ensuing manhunt; and Prince's arrest later that evening in Newark, Delaware, by agents of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms ("ATF"), which involved a brief foot chase during which Prince discarded a gun.

         (12) Several key instructions were given to the jury. First, the jury received an instruction on self-defense as to the attempted murder charge against Prince. Second, the court instructed the jury on the lesser-included offense of attempted manslaughter under extreme emotional distress. Finally, the court instructed the jury that it could use the evidence of the Maryland shooting only for the purpose of determining Prince's state of mind as to the Baul shooting, and not for any other purpose.

         (13) The jury found Prince not guilty of Attempted Murder and guilty of the lesser-included offense of Attempted Manslaughter Under Extreme Emotional Distress. The jury also found Prince guilty of Reckless Endangering First Degree, Carrying a Concealed Deadly Weapon, Resisting Arrest, and two counts of Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Felony.

         (14) Appointed counsel represented Prince before and during trial. His trial counsel filed this appeal on his behalf. Prince then filed a motion and affidavit seeking to proceed pro se on appeal. This Court remanded to the Superior Court for a determination of whether Prince was making a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary waiver of his right to counsel on appeal. The Superior Court determined that he was, and this Court granted Prince's motion to proceed pro se.

         (15) Prince has raised numerous issues for consideration by the Court. We address each of his arguments below.

         Evidence of Prior Threats Against Baul and Dismissed Charges

         (16) Prince argues that the Superior Court erred by allowing the State to introduce, during its case in chief, testimony concerning: (i) threats that Prince had previously made against Baul;[4] and (ii) the charges against Prince, which were later dismissed, arising out of the incident in which Baul ran into Prince with a truck.[5]Prince did not object at trial to the introduction of this evidence, [6] and in fact his counsel elicited much of the testimony at issue.[7] We therefore review for plain error.[8] A plain error is one "so clearly prejudicial to substantial rights as to jeopardize the fairness and integrity of the trial process."[9]

         (17) We find no plain error arising from the introduction of this testimony. Evidence of other crimes or misconduct "is generally inadmissible to prove the commission of the offense charged."[10] "The general rule is intended to prevent the State from proving the charged offense by evidence of other crimes on the theory that the defendant acted in conformity with those other bad acts in committing the charged offense. Thus, the State cannot use another offense to establish that the defendant had a propensity to commit the charged offense."[11] But evidence of other crimes may be admitted for purposes other than proving propensity, including to show motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident.[12]

         (18) In Getz v. State, this Court established the following guidelines for trial courts to apply when determining the admissibility of evidence under Rule 404(b):

(i) the evidence must be "material to an issue or ultimate fact in dispute in the case;"
(ii) the evidence must be introduced for a proper purpose, including those described in Rule 404(b)(2);
(iii) the other acts must be proved by plain, clear, and conclusive evidence;
(iv) the commission of the other acts "must not be too remote in time from the charged offense;"
(v) the court must "balance the probative value of such evidence against its unfairly prejudicial effect, as required by D.R.E. 403;" and
(vi) the court should instruct the jury concerning the limited purpose for which the evidence is admitted.[13]

         (19) Prince argues that the evidence of the threats and dismissed charges was not plain, clear, and conclusive because the only source of that evidence was Baul's testimony. But this Court has held that the testimony of a victim is sufficient to satisfy the "plain, clear, and conclusive" standard of Getz.[14] Here, the testimony related to events in which Baul was involved, and the jury could evaluate his credibility. Prince's counsel had the opportunity to, and did, cross-examine Baul about his testimony and to present other witnesses or evidence rebutting that testimony. The testimony was therefore sufficiently plain, clear, and conclusive.[15]

         (20) Prince also contends that the evidence was not material to an issue in the case and was not introduced for a permissible purpose, and that the potential prejudice of the evidence outweighed its probative value. Thus, he contends it was plain error for the trial judge not to spontaneously intervene to keep the evidence out. We disagree that the trial judge committed any error. The evidence at issue included testimony concerning threatening words and conduct between Prince and Baul over a period of approximately two years before the shooting. That evidence was material to the issues of Prince's motive and intent when going to Baul's shop with a gun on the day of the shooting. Moreover, the defense strategy at trial was to suggest that a build-up of tension between Prince and Baul-culminating in Baul's allegedly soliciting a "hit" on Prince-caused Prince either to shoot Baul in self-defense or to experience extreme emotional distress that mitigated the shooting. That strategy explains why Prince's own counsel elicited much of the testimony at issue. Prince now complains that the trial judge did not intervene and essentially block the evidence most helpful to his own strategy-a strategy that appears to have had some success. In criminal trials, it is critical that the trial judge not impinge a defendant's ability to present a defense by making rulings that are not requested and that might be inconsistent with the defense strategy.[16] Given that it was undisputed that Prince shot Baul, Prince's counsel pursued the only logical mitigating strategy, which was to present evidence justifying why Prince acted as he did. In light of those facts, there was no plain error as the evidence was probative of Prince's motive and state of mind, which are permissible purposes under Rule 404(b) and were at issue in the case, and the potential prejudice of the testimony did not outweigh its probative value.

         (21) In situations where evidence of other misconduct is introduced over defense objections and is not itself inextricably intertwined with the defense's own strategy and evidence, Getz also requires a limiting instruction to the jury regarding the use of evidence admitted under Rule 404(b). In this case, the Superior Court did not give a limiting instruction as to the use of the evidence of the prior threats and dismissed charges, and the defense did not request an instruction. A trial court "generally does not commit plain error if it fails to give a limiting instruction, sua sponte, when evidence of prior bad acts is admitted."[17] The Superior Court's failure to give an instruction therefore did not constitute plain error, especially here where the evidence was in large measure introduced by Prince himself.

         Evidence of Maryland Shooting

         (22) Prince's challenge to the Superior Court's decision to permit the State to introduce evidence of the Maryland shooting also implicates D.R.E. 403 and 404(b) and the Getz analysis.[18] Prince argues that the court should not have admitted the evidence because the defense did not put Prince's state of mind at issue and the prejudicial effect of the evidence outweighed its probative value.[19] Unlike his prior arguments about 404(b) evidence, these claims were properly preserved at trial. We therefore review for abuse of discretion.[20]

         (23) During and after the close of the State's case-in-chief, the defense indicated that they would be seeking a self-defense instruction and an instruction on the lesser-included offense of attempted manslaughter under extreme emotional distress.[21] The Superior Court made a preliminary ruling that not enough evidence had been presented during the State's case-in-chief to support instructions on self- defense and extreme emotional distress.[22] Defense counsel then indicated that Prince had decided to testify, in order "to explain to the Jury his state of mind on the 18th of October. And he would also like to explain to the Jury ['what happened in the interactions with him and Jason Baul'] that had created that state of mind."[23] The State argued that Prince's anticipated testimony would put his state of mind at issue, opening the door for the State to introduce evidence of the Maryland shooting. The court initially determined that Prince's testimony might "put the Maryland incidents in play" and engaged in a colloquy with Prince to ensure that he understood that risk.[24] Prince indicated that he understood and that he had decided to testify.

         (24) Prince then took the stand. After Prince testified about his past interactions with Baul and that he feared that Baul had put a hit on his life, the State argued that his testimony had put his state of mind at issue, opening the door for the Maryland evidence.[25] Following extensive argument about the issues, the Superior Court ruled that, under D.R.E. 403, the evidence of the Maryland shooting was highly probative of his state of mind and the probative value outweighed the very prejudicial nature of the evidence.[26] The court also ruled that, applying D.R.E. 404(b) and the Getz analysis, the evidence was admissible because (i) it was highly material to intent and state of mind, which the defendant's testimony had made "the central issue of the case;" (ii) it was admitted for a permissible purpose under D.R.E. 404(b); (iii) the evidence was plain, clear, and conclusive, because there was a video of Prince engaging in the shooting in Maryland; (iv) it was not remote in time because it occurred the same day; (v) the probative value outweighed the prejudicial effect, for the reasons the court had discussed in its ruling under D.R.E. 403; and (vi) the jury would receive a limiting instruction.[27]

         (25) We conclude that the Superior Court did not abuse its discretion. The Superior Court recognized the highly prejudicial nature of the evidence of the Maryland shooting.[28] But it determined that the fact that Prince had carried out a shooting in Maryland approximately two hours earlier was also highly probative of his state of mind when he shot Baul, in light of Prince's contention that he acted in self-defense or under extreme emotional distress because of his history with Baul over the past several years. When reaching that conclusion, the court carefully applied D.R.E. 403 and 404(b) to the facts, in accordance with the criteria set forth in Getz.[29] We therefore find no reversible error.[30]

         Evidence of Job Dispute

         (26) Prince also argues that the trial court erroneously admitted evidence that Prince was unhappy with Baul because Baul had refused to give him a job a few years before the shooting. Prince contends that the evidence was inadmissible hearsay.[31] Prince did not object to the testimony at trial. He also does not identify what specific evidence relating to the job dispute purportedly was hearsay. "Hearsay" is a statement made outside of court that is offered "to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement."[32] Baul testified that Prince had tried to get a job at Baul's company three or four years before trial and that Baul had refused to hire him.[33] That is a matter of which Baul had direct knowledge. The fact that Prince disputes that version of events[34] does not make the testimony hearsay. Moreover, to the extent Prince challenges Baul's testimony that, during a heated exchange between Prince and Baul in 2016, Prince asked Baul why Baul had not given him a job and said he was going to take everything Baul had, [35] we conclude that those statements did not constitute inadmissible hearsay because a statement made by a party-here, Prince-is not hearsay.[36]

         Damien Roberts's Invocation of the Fifth Amendment Privilege

         (27) Next, Prince contends that the Superior Court erred by not allowing the defense to question Damien Roberts in front of the jury.[37] Prince had identified Roberts as a witness, intending to elicit testimony that Baul had solicited Roberts to kill Prince. At a sidebar conference, the State informed the Court that the State and Prince's counsel had spoken with Roberts's counsel, who had indicated that Roberts, if questioned, intended to invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.[38] Roberts was then escorted into the courtroom and, outside the presence of the jury, the court informed him that the defense wanted to introduce evidence that Roberts was hired to kill someone and asked Roberts whether he would discuss that on the witness stand. Roberts stated that he would not and that he would invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege.[39] Prince's counsel then asked Roberts some questions about whether he had previously made statements about someone trying to hire him for a hit and whether he had been intimated or threatened about testifying, to which he responded that he had not.[40] Roberts then left the courtroom and was not called to testify before the jury.

         (28) Prince does not cite any authority for the proposition that it is reversible error for a trial court to allow a potential witness to invoke the Fifth Amendment outside of the presence of the jury. To the contrary, "[p]ermitting a witness to invoke the Fifth Amendment outside the presence of the jury does not violate the Constitutional rights of a criminal defendant."[41]

         (29) Prince also argues that the Superior Court's decision to have Roberts questioned outside the presence of the jury impinged on Prince's ability to show that the State intimidated Roberts into not testifying by transporting Roberts to the courthouse for an interview and telling him that he might be subject to criminal charges if he testified that he had a contract to kill Prince.

         (30) Prince did not raise this argument at trial, and we find no plain error for the following reasons. First, because Prince never fairly raised the issue of tampering below, the trial judge obviously had no chance to address it, much less to address the argument that questioning Roberts outside the jury's presence somehow precluded the defense from exploring whether tampering occurred. Second, even though the defense never argued the tampering claim below, the trial court in fact gave Prince's counsel the opportunity to question Roberts, and defense counsel used that opportunity to ask Roberts questions regarding the State's interaction with Roberts and his decision to invoke the Fifth Amendment. Finally, from the record of Robert's testimony, there is no basis to find that the Superior Court committed plain error by not spontaneously coming to the conclusion that the State had improperly tampered with Roberts. Rather, the record does not support Prince's claim that the State intimidated Roberts into not testifying. In response to the questions from Prince's counsel, Roberts said that on the previous Friday he had been transported to the courthouse, where three people, whose names and affiliations he could not remember, asked some questions about a hit on Prince. But he clearly stated that no one threatened or intimidated him about testifying or said that he had "better not testify," and he stated that he was invoking the Fifth Amendment solely because he did not want to incriminate himself, and not for any other reason.[42] No plain error arises when a prosecutor warns a prospective witness of the potential criminal consequences of his testimony, unless the prosecutor's conduct amounts to "a substantial interference with a witness's free and unhampered testimony."[43] "In fact, the government has an obligation to warn unrepresented witnesses of the risk that the testimony they are going to give can be used against them."[44] We therefore find no plain error.

         Failure to Sequester the Jurors

         (31) Prince argues that the Superior Court erred by not sequestering the jury when the court sat in recess on the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday between the conclusion of the State's case-in-chief on Thursday October 10, 2018 and the beginning of the defense case on Monday October 14, 2018.[45] As a general matter, this Court reviews a trial court's denial of a defendant's request for sequestration for abuse of discretion.[46] Because Prince did not request sequestration or otherwise raise this claim below, we review for plain error.

         (32) Prince correctly observes that the Superior Court and the parties acknowledged that the shooting had received substantial pretrial coverage because of the Maryland shooting and ensuing manhunt. But we find no plain error in the court's not sequestering the jury. It is "well settled that jury sequestration is a matter of judicial discretion" and that "sequestration is a matter of discretion and not of fundamental or constitutional right."[47] Moreover, "absent a showing of actual prejudice, a trial court's refusal to sequester a jury constitutes neither reversible error nor an abuse of discretion."[48] "The fear of some media publicity during trial is seldom a sufficient reason for subjecting the jurors to the inconvenience of sequestration. Thus, the court must be notified of any offensive publicity before it can be required to take the necessary precaution of sequestering the jury. The defendant must be able to make a factual showing of actual prejudice resulting from inflammatory news reports during trial."[49]

         (33) Prince has failed to make the necessary showing of actual prejudice. He correctly states that there was substantial pretrial publicity, but he argues only that the jury should have been sequestered during a three-day recess (including a weekend) in the middle of the trial. He does not contend that the jury should have been sequestered during the entire trial, and he does not he identify what, if any, media coverage occurred during the three-day recess. Nor did he make that showing to the Superior Court.[50] Moreover, the court had repeatedly instructed the jury not to partake of any news coverage or other discussion of the case, and until the three-day recess, the court and the parties had carefully avoided any references to the Maryland shooting. Thus, we see no additional prejudice that would have arisen during the recess, and conclude that the Superior Court adequately protected Prince's right to a fair trial by admonishing the jury to avoid media accounts of the trial.[51]

         Redacted Witness Statements and Protective Order

         (34) Prince also argues that the Superior Court erred by denying his request for nonredacted copies of police reports and witness statements.[52] The State agreed to provide the nonredacted documents to Prince's counsel, subject to a protective order that prevented his counsel from sharing witness-identifying information with Prince.[53] Prince wanted access to the complete information, but the court denied his request, stating that he did not have a general right to witness statements under Superior Court Criminal Rule 16 and that access to information beyond that required by the rules was subject to agreement between the State and the defense.[54] We review this issue for abuse of discretion.[55]

         (35) Superior Court Criminal Rule 16 does not require the State to produce witness statements before trial or to provide a complete and detailed report of the police investigatory work performed on a case.[56] The Superior Court may enter protective orders that balance witness safety with a defendant's ability to prepare his defense.[57] In this case, the protective order limited disclosure to Prince only of witness-identifying information, not of the contents of the statements and reports, and Prince's counsel had full access to the information.[58]

         (36) Of course, under Brady v. Maryland, "suppression by the prosecution of evidence favorable to an accused upon request violates due process where the evidence is material either to guilt or to punishment."[59] But the duty to disclose exculpatory evidence "does not extend to the disclosure of material that is non-exculpatory."[60] In order to demonstrate a Brady violation, the defendant must establish three elements: the evidence is favorable to the accused because it is either exculpatory or impeaching; the State suppressed the evidence, either willfully or inadvertently; and the defendant was prejudiced.[61] Prince has not explained how any of the information that was withheld was favorable under Brady. Nor has he established that he was prejudiced by the withholding of the witness-identifying information from him, when he was represented by counsel at trial and his counsel had access to the information. The Superior Court did not abuse its discretion by entering the protective order in this case or by denying Prince's request for access to all the information his counsel had.

         Failure to Suppress Evidence Obtained as a Result of Allegedly Illegal Arrest

         (37) Prince also argues that the Superior Court erroneously denied Prince's motion to suppress the physical evidence, including the gun, that was seized in connection with his arrest.[62] We review the Superior Court's decision to deny a motion to suppress for an abuse of discretion.[63]

         (38) Prince sought suppression on the basis that there was not probable cause for his arrest.[64] The court held a suppression hearing, during which the State presented the testimony of a police detective concerning the "Be on the Lookout" ("BOLO") bulletin that Delaware-based law enforcement received after the Maryland shooting, which identified Prince and his vehicle; how law enforcement had identified Prince as the Delaware shooter, based on the video surveillance obtained from Baul's shop and Baul's identification of Prince as the shooter; the issuance of an additional BOLO bulletin; and the active search for Prince. The detective also testified that ATF agents who were assisting with the search observed him in the area of Newark, Delaware, and recognized him as the wanted person. The ATF agents attempted to approach Prince, leading to a brief foot chase, during which Prince discarded a firearm.[65] The ...

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