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State v. Ryle

Superior Court of Delaware

October 21, 2019

ALEX RYLE, Defendant.

          Submitted: August 12, 2019

         Cr. A. Nos. IN14-12-1394, etc.

         Upon Defendant Alex Ryle 's Motion for Postconviction Relief DENIED.



         This 21st day of October, 2019, upon consideration of the Defendant Alex Ryle's Pro Se Motion for Postconviction Relief and his numerous supplements thereto (D.I. 89, 90, 106, 108, 113, 120, 122), the Commissioner's Report and Recommendation that Mr. Ryle's Pro Se Motion for Postconviction Relief should be DENIED and Postconviction Counsel Edward F. Eaton, Esquire's Motion to Withdraw should be GRANTED (D.I. 119), and the record in this case, it appears to the Court that:

         (1) In February 2015, following a two-day trial, a Superior Court jury convicted Alex Ryle of Possession of a Firearm By a Person Prohibited ("PFBPP"), Possession of Ammunition By a Person Prohibited ("PABPP"), and Carrying a Concealed Deadly Weapon ("CCDW-Firearm").[1] Mr. Ryle conducted his trial pro se.[2]

         (2) Mr. Ryle's sentencing occurred in October 2015, after: (a) he prosecuted an unsuccessful pro se motion for a new trial;[3] (b) he was (at his request) re-appointed counsel for sentencing; (c) a pre-sentence investigative report was prepared; and (d) the State had filed a habitual criminal petition.[4] Mr. Ryle was sentenced to the minimum required for the PFBPP and CCDW-Firearm: 23 years at Level V to be served under the provisions of the then-extant Habitual Criminal Act.[5] For the ammunition count, he received eight years at Level V that was suspended in whole for lower and diminishing levels of supervision.[6]

         (3) Mr. Ryle retained new counsel and filed a direct appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court arguing that this Court-though it repeatedly advised him of the dangers of doing so-should not have permitted him to proceed pro se at trial.[7] The Supreme Court found Mr. Ryle's claims lacked merit (i.e., that this Court properly authorized and honored his waiver of counsel) and affirmed this Court's judgments of conviction and sentence.[8]

         (4) Mr. Ryle filed a timely pro se Motion for Postconviction Relief pursuant to Superior Court Criminal Rule 6l.[9] He also requested appointment of postconviction counsel.[10] The Court granted Mr. Ryle's motion for appointment of counsel and that attorney was given leave to adopt and freely amend Mr. Ryle's pro se Rule 61 motion.[11]

         (5) Mr. Ryle's assigned attorney, invoking Superior Court Criminal Rule 61(e)(6), filed a motion to withdraw as postconviction counsel.[12] In his motion to withdraw, Mr. Ryle's postconviction counsel represented that, after undertaking a thorough analysis of Mr. Ryle's claims and the record in his case, counsel had determined that: (a) Mr. Ryle's proposed claims are so lacking in merit that counsel could not ethically advocate any of them; and (b) that counsel, upon his own independent review, found no other meritorious postconviction claims.[13] Mr. Ryle supplemented his issues/points for consideration, [14] the State filed its response, [15] Mr. Ryle replied, [16] and the State was given an opportunity to answer Mr. Ryle's additional claims raised in that reply.[17]

         (6) After receiving all of the foregoing, Mr. Ryle's postconviction matter was referred to Superior Court Commissioner Janine M. Salomone in accordance with 10 Del. C. §512(b) and Superior Court Criminal Rule 62 for proposed findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommendations for its disposition.[18]

         (7) The Commissioner filed her Report and Recommendation in June 2019. The Commissioner recommended that the Court deny Mr. Ryle's Motion for Postconviction Relief.[19]

         (8) "Within ten days after filing of a Commissioner's proposed findings of fact and recommendations . . . any party may serve and file written objections."[20]Mr. Ryle filed his objections[21] and that State filed its response thereto.[22]

         (9) All but one of Mr. Ryle's objections are conclusory statements, comprised of only general assertions that the Commissioner ought to have recommended relief or failed to address some unspecified contention in his myriad arguments.[23] One filing objections to a Commissioner's proposed findings of fact and recommendations must "set forth with particularity the basis for the objections."[24] Mr. Ryle failed to do so here. The Court, therefore, need not and will not sort out and individually address his several vague objections.[25]

         (10) The sole specific issue Mr. Ryle develops in his objections is his claim that appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge this Court's trial rulings on certain alleged "discovery violations."[26]

         (11) Any 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.[27] In order to succeed in demonstrating that his appellate counsel was constitutionally ineffective, Ryle "must[, at very least, ] first show that his counsel was objectively unreasonable in failing to find . . . and to file a merits brief raising" a nonfrivolous appellate issue.[28] In addition, Ryle must demonstrate that counsel's allegedly deficient performance caused prejudice-'"[t]hat is, [Ryle] must show a reasonable probability that, but for his appellate counsel's unreasonable failure to [file a particular claim], he would have prevailed on his appeal."[29] And Mr. Ryle cannot obtain postconviction relief unless he adequately establishes both: objectively unreasonable performance and sufficient resulting prejudice.[30] He can demonstrate neither.

         (12) The Court thoroughly addressed Mr. Ryle's "discovery" complaints on his new trial motion.[31] As the Court understands his present charge, Mr. Ryle believes that had appellate counsel sought review of the Court's purported failure to impose appropriate "discovery sanctions"-that is, in his view, exclusion of both the firearm found on his person and his recorded statement to the police-appellate counsel surely would have obtained reversal. Not likely.

         (13) First, as to those specific items, the Court found no discovery violation occurred.[32] Thus, appellate counsel wasn't unreasonable when he fully examined the record and found no basis to raise any discovery issues on appeal.[33] There is simply no evidence of substandard representation here. And so, on this basis alone Mr. Ryle's claim of ineffective assistance must fail.[34]

         (14) Moreover, the Delaware Supreme Court "review[s] a trial judge's application of the Superior Court Rules relating to discovery for an abuse of discretion."[35] So had appellate counsel raised Mr. Ryle's suggested "discovery sanctions" issue on direct appeal, our Supreme Court would have reviewed this Court's rulings for abuse of discretion. In turn, to meet the prejudice standard required here, Mr. Ryle must demonstrate that his appellate counsel would have prevailed under the applicable abuse-of-discretion standard of review. And he can only do so if he can demonstrate that "[t]he likelihood of a different result [on appeal was] substantial, not just conceivable."[36] He can't. For even when "a trial judge finds that the State has [actually] committed a discovery violation, he [or she] has 'broad discretion to fashion the appropriate sanction.'"[37] Under the abuse-of-discretion standard engaged when reviewing those rulings, our Supreme Court "may only reverse [this] Court's decision if it is found to be clearly erroneous."[38] And under that standard of review, Mr. ...

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