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State v. Carr

Superior Court of Delaware

January 13, 2020

BRUCE J. CARR, Defendant.

          Submitted: November 18, 2019

         Upon Commissioner's Report and Recommendation That Defendant's Motion for Postconviction Relief Should Be Summarily Dismissed ADOPTED


          Honorable Mary M. Johnston Judge.

         This 13th day of January 2020, the Court has considered Defendant's Objection to the Commissioner's Report and Recommendation, Commissioner's Report and Recommendation, Defendant's Motions for Postconviction Relief, and the relevant proceedings below.

         In 1982, a Superior Court jury convicted Defendant Bruce J. Carr on counts of kidnapping, rape and attempted rape. Defendant was sentenced to six consecutive life terms plus forty years. On November 9, 1983, on direct appeal, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction and sentence.[1]

         On August 8, 2019, Defendant filed a pro se Motion for Postconviction Relief. Defendant's motion was referred to a Superior Court Commissioner in accordance with 10 Del. C. § 512(b) and Superior Court Criminal Rule 62 for proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. The Commissioner issued the Report and Recommendation on November 4, 2019, recommending that Defendant's Motion for Postconviction Relief be summarily dismissed. On November 18, 2019, Defendant filed an Objection to the Commissioner's Report.

         Postconviction Relief

         Defendant makes only one argument regarding his Motion for Postconviction Relief: ineffective assistance of counsel. It is noted that, regardless of procedural bars, Defendant's claim is without merit.

         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 that the deficiencies in counsel's representation caused the defendant actual prejudice.[2] Mere allegations of ineffectiveness will not suffice. A defendant must make and substantiate concrete allegations of actual prejudice.[3]Great weight and deference are given to tactical decisions by the trial attorney.[4]

         Defendant argues that defense counsel was ineffective for failing to inform Defendant of a plea deal allegedly offered by the State. Defendant cites Sewell v. State, wherein this Court ruled that "defense counsel has the duty to communicate plea offers to a client."[5] Defendant is correct that defense counsel has a duty to communicate plea offers to a client.[6] Nevertheless, Defendant fails to satisfy the burden imposed on defendants seeking postconviction relief where defense counsel has failed to communicate a plea offer to a client:

Where defense counsel has failed to comply with his duties to a client regarding plea negotiations, a defendant must show that but for the ineffective advice of counsel there is a reasonable probability that the plea offer would have been presented to the court (i.e., that the defendant would have accepted the plea and the prosecution would not have withdrawn it in light of intervening circumstances), that the court would have accepted its terms, and that the conviction or sentence, or both, under the offer's terms would have been less severe than under the judgment and sentence that in fact were imposed.[7]

         In Defendant's letter dated April 20, 1982, Defendant wrote that "[Defense counsel].. .wanted me to take a plea of guilt, and I denied."[8] If defense counsel had received a plea offer, Defendant, by his own admission, refused it. It is clear from Defendant's April 20, 1982 letter that Defendant was not interested and would have refused to accept the State's offer. Defendant even used this alleged communication of a plea deal as part of the basis for his request for new counsel.[9]Thus, even if the Court assumes Defendant's allegations are true, Defendant lacks an explanation as to how Defendant was prejudiced.

         Defendant also fails to substantiate his allegations. Defendant merely notes the lack of a record of Defendant's refusal to take the plea in "the Court Docket or official file or in the files of the Attorney General Offices."[10] The record before the Court does appear to show that Defendant never received a plea offer. It also shows no apparent discrepancy between Defendant's current contention that defense counsel never informed Defendant of a plea offer, and defense counsel's own statement.

         In response to Defendant's April 20, 1982 letter, defense counsel explicitly denied ever communicating a plea offer to Defendant. In a letter dated April 30, 1982, defense counsel noted that "regarding [Defendant's claim that I said he was guilty of committing criminal acts, that is patently untrue. In addition, I did not advise him to take any plea, which he claims he refused, in that there had been no plea-offer extended."[11] In this case, it appears that Defendant cannot locate any record in any office or file where one would be kept because no plea offer ever existed. It is further noted that the State has no legal obligation to offer a plea to less than the charged offense.[12]

         The record fails to support Defendant under any light. Either defense counsel communicated a plea offer, which Defendant admittedly rejected, or the State never made a plea offer. Regarding the merits of Defendant's Motion for Postconviction Relief, Defendant has failed to substantiate allegations that defense counsel concealed or failed to communicate to Defendant a plea deal. Defendant also omits an explanation as to any ...

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