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State v. Spady

Superior Court of Delaware

December 10, 2019

XAVIER SPADY, Defendant.

          Submitted: October 24, 2019

          James K. McCloskey, Esquire, Deputy Attorney General, Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware.

          Xavier Spady, James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, Smyrna, Delaware, pro se.



         This 10th day of December, 2019, upon consideration of Defendant's Motion for Postconviction Relief, for the reasons that follow, it is hereby recommended that the motion be DENIED:


         On January 12, 2017, Xavier Spady ("Defendant"), was an inmate serving a Level IV portion of his sentence at the Central Violation of Probation Center. Correctional Officers ordered Defendant to return to his cell after finishing dinner. Defendant refused, there was a verbal altercation, and Defendant "lunged" at one of the Correctional Officers, leading to a physical struggle. Another Officer intervened and when he attempted to restrain Defendant, the Officer was thrown off balance and he struck his head on a concrete wall. The incident was captured by surveillance cameras. Defendant was charged with Assault in a Detention Facility and Attempted Assault in a Detention Facility. Defendant qualified for sentencing as a habitual offender and if convicted, could have been sentenced to a minimum-mandatory of eight years to life on each charge.

         Defendant's counsel ("Trial Counsel") obtained a continuance of the trial date in order to conduct a mental health evaluation and Trial Counsel eventually obtained multiple psycho-forensic and psychological reports. On October 30, 2017, Defendant pled guilty to the two indicted offenses.[1] In exchange for the guilty plea, the State agreed not to seek to declare Defendant a habitual offender. As a result, the minimum-mandatory sentence was reduced to four years at Level V, but the parties jointly agreed to recommend a total of six years at Level V followed by decreasing levels of probation.[2]

         The Court held a hearing and engaged in a detailed plea colloquy.[3] Defendant responded that he understood the rights that he was waiving by pleading guilty, and he admitted that he did in fact commit the acts supporting the two charges.[4]Defendant acknowledged that he discussed the evidence with Trial Counsel and he was satisfied with the representation he received.[5] After accepting the plea as knowing, intelligent and voluntary, the Court ordered a pre-sentence investigation. On January 19, 2018, the Court sentenced Defendant to three years at Level V and five years at Level V, suspended after three years for one year at Level III.[6]

         On January 4, 2019, Defendant filed a Motion for Postconviction Relief (the "Motion").[7] The Motion set forth the following claims: (1) Trial Counsel was ineffective because he failed to present any mitigating evidence at sentencing; and (2) Trial Counsel wrongly advised Defendant to plead guilty because he was struck first and the State could not prove he had the mens rea to support the charges.

         The Court ordered Trial Counsel to submit an Affidavit with supporting materials.[8] On February 20, 2019, Defendant filed a document identifying questions for Trial Counsel to address.[9] Trial Counsel then submitted an Affidavit of Defense Counsel in Response to Rule 61 Motion for Postconviction Relief[10] and the State filed a Response.[11] In lieu of filing a reply, Defendant filed a Motion to Amend his Rule 61 Motion.[12] This pleading added a "third" claim: Trial Counsel was ineffective in leading Defendant to believe that he had obtained a plea to the least amount of time possible, Defendant was not receiving treatment for his mental illness, and Defendant would have prevailed at trial with a mental illness defense. The Court accepted this further amendment and the State responded to the additional claims.[13] Briefing is now complete.


         Before considering the merits of the claims, the Court must first determine whether there are any procedural bars to the Motion.[14] This is Defendant's first motion for post-conviction relief and it was timely filed.[15] Pursuant to Super. Ct. Crim. R. 61(i)(3) and (4), any ground for relief that was not previously raised is deemed waived, and any claims that were formerly adjudicated, whether in the proceedings leading to the judgment of conviction, in an appeal, in a postconviction proceeding, or in a federal habeas corpus proceeding, are thereafter barred.[16]Ineffective assistance of counsel claims cannot be raised at any earlier stage in the proceedings and are properly presented by way of a motion for postconviction relief.[17]

         In order to prevail on an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, a defendant must show that his counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness and the deficiencies in counsel's representation caused the defendant actual prejudice.[18] To prevail in the context of a case involving a guilty plea, Defendant must show that but for counsel's errors, there is a reasonable probability that he would not have pleaded guilty and instead would have insisted on going to trial.[19] Defendant must also overcome a strong presumption that counsel's conduct was reasonably professional under the circumstances.[20] Further, mere allegations of ineffectiveness will not suffice, rather, a defendant must make and substantiate concrete allegations of actual prejudice.[21] Great weight and deference are given to tactical decisions by the trial attorney and counsel cannot be deemed ineffective for failing to pursue motions that lack merit.[22]

         I. Trial Counsel Zealously Pursued Mental Health Reports to Assist Defendant

         Defendant first argues that Trial Counsel was ineffective by failing to present any mitigating evidence. This argument is belied by the record. Trial Counsel obtained a report from Ernest DiStefano, a psycho-forensic evaluator, to develop a mitigation report. In addition, Trial Counsel retained Dr. Laura Cooney-Koss, a forensic psychologist, to conduct a comprehensive evaluation. Trial Counsel provided the reports to the State to assist with plea negotiations. According to the State's Response, it extended a more favorable plea offer after reviewing the reports. Prior to sentencing, Trial Counsel submitted a memorandum arguing mitigating circumstances and included the reports for the Court's consideration.[23] A review of the Sentencing Hearing transcript demonstrates the Court reviewed the memorandum, [24] that the State relied upon it in submitting its recommendation, [25] and Trial Counsel referenced it in support of his request that the Court not exceed the sentencing recommendation.[26] Trial Counsel then went further and highlighted, in detail, numerous mitigating factors for the Court's consideration.[27] The Court considered these arguments in its sentencing determination.[28] Trial Counsel undoubtedly advocated for consideration of Defendant's mental health to mitigate the Court's sentencing decision. Defendant has failed to establish any error on this issue.

         II. Defendant Waived his Right to Contest "Mens Rea "

         Next, Defendant argues that Trial Counsel was ineffective because the victim in this case struck Defendant first, and he did not have the requisite mens rea to support a conviction. Defendant entered into a Plea Agreement and executed the Truth-In-Sentencing Guilty Plea Form whereby he agreed that he was freely and voluntarily deciding to plead guilty. Through the plea colloquy, Defendant agreed to waive the right to question witnesses, contest the State's evidence and to present evidence in his own defense.[29] When questioned about the charges, Defendant freely admitted that he committed the acts.[30] A defendant is bound by his statements to the Court during the plea colloquy and a valid guilty plea waives his right to challenge any alleged errors, deficiencies or defects occurring prior to the entry of the plea.[31] Defendant cannot now challenge the evidence against him by couching the argument as ineffective assistance of counsel.

         III. Trial Counsel Secured a Favorable ...

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