Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court

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Richard Cushner was convicted by jury of third-degree burglary and two counts of criminal mischief. Cushner contended on appeal that the trial court erred in denying his motion for judgment of acquittal because the only evidence connecting him to the crimes was a handprint that was discovered on the outside of a storage trailer he allegedly burglarized. Relying on Monroe v. Delaware, 652 A.2d 560 (1995), Cushner contended the motion should have been granted because the State failed to present sufficient evidence to establish that his handprint was impressed at the time the crimes were committed. After review, the Delaware Supreme Court concluded “Monroe” was distinguishable and that the evidence in this case was sufficient to sustain Cushner’s conviction. View "Cushner v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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When police arrested appellant Roderick Brown (aka “Mumford”) for drug dealing and money laundering, they also seized several cars and tens of thousands of dollars. Brown petitioned for the return of that property, but after an evidentiary hearing, the Superior Court denied the bulk of Brown’s claims. Brown then filed this appeal. Because the Delaware Supreme Court concluded the State failed to meet its burden for the seizure of two of Brown’s cars, it reversed in part. View "Brown v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was a Family Court order adjudging appellant Joseph Baker, Jr., a minor child, delinquent for having committed an act of Rape in the Second Degree. Initially, Baker was charged with three counts of Rape in the Second Degree. Count Two was voluntarily dismissed by the State before trial. At trial, the Family Court judge found Baker delinquent on Count One and acquitted him on Count Three. On appeal, Baker argued the judgment of delinquency for the one count of Rape in the Second Degree should be reversed because of evidentiary errors made by the Family Court judge at trial. The Delaware Supreme Court agreed that errors were made and reversal was required. View "Baker v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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Appellant "Arthur Stoner," appealed a Family Court order finding him delinquent of Robbery in the Second Degree and Conspiracy in the Second Degree. On appeal, he argued: (1) the finding that he committed Conspiracy in the Second Degree violated his right to due process because it was based on a finding that he violated an uncharged subsection of the conspiracy statute; (2) there was insufficient evidence to find him delinquent of Robbery in the Second Degree, specifically, the Family Court misconstrued a part of the robbery statute, 11 Del. C. 831(b); and (3) 11 Del. C. 512(1), the subsection of the conspiracy statute under which he was found delinquent, was unconstitutionally vague because it does not expressly include the requirement of an overt act. The State agreed that the Family Court erred when it found Stoner delinquent for violating an uncharged subsection of the conspiracy statute, and recommended vacating that charge. Because the State conceded error and agreed Stoner’s adjudication of delinquency as to Conspiracy in the Second Degree should have been vacated, the Delaware Supreme Court accepted its concession and did not discuss Stoner’s first contention. For this same reason, Stoner’s third contention, that 11 Del. C. 512(1) was unconstitutionally vague, was not be addressed. The Court only addressed Stoner’s contentions relating to the Family Court’s finding of delinquency for Robbery in the Second Degree. To that end, the Supreme Court remanded this case back to the trial court for additional findings with regard to the robbery charge. View "Stoner v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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Late one evening in October 2017, Wilmington Police Officer Matthew Rosaio was on patrol with other officers when he observed two men walking on a nearby sidewalk. One of the men, Murray, was walking with his right arm canted and pinned against the right side of his body, specifically the right front portion of his body. The other man, Lenwood Murray-Stokes, was walking normally. The manner in which Murray was walking made Officer Rosaio suspicious that Murray was carrying a concealed firearm in his waistband on his right side. The officer began drawing his weapon and instructed Murray to show his hands. Murray appeared to reach for his waistband area. The officer then pointed his weapon at Murray and instructed him to not reach for his waistband and to get on the ground. Murray complied. The officer then asked Murray whether he had anything in his possession. Murray replied that he had a firearm in his waistband. The officer located the firearm in Murray’s waistband on his right side and seized it. Murray was charged with Carrying a Concealed Deadly Weapon, Possession of a Firearm by a Person Prohibited, and Possession of Ammunition by a Person Prohibited. He filed a motion to suppress the discovery of the firearm from use as evidence at trial, arguing that the officer did not have a reasonable, articulable suspicion that Murray had committed or was about to engage in any illegal activity to justify detaining him or probable cause to arrest him. The Superior Court agreed and granted the motion to suppress. The Delaware Supreme Court concluded the officer performed a legitimate Terry stop, and therefore the motion to suppress should have been denied. View "Delaware v. Murray" on Justia Law

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Milton Taylor appeared before a superior court judge and offered to plead guilty but mentally ill for the July 2016 murder of Whitney White. After his counsel told the court that Taylor was competent to plead guilty, the court conducted a plea colloquy with him but deferred accepting the plea until a later sentencing hearing, when the court would have the presentence investigation. The day after the hearing, Taylor told his counsel to withdraw his plea. His counsel refused. Taylor then made pro se requests to withdraw his plea. The court would not consider them because Taylor had counsel. At the sentencing hearing, Taylor addressed the court and sought again to withdraw his plea. The trial judge refused to consider Taylor’s request because Taylor had counsel. Over Taylor’s objection, the court accepted the guilty but mentally ill plea to manslaughter and possession of a deadly weapon during commission of a felony, and sentenced Taylor to 45 years in prison. Taylor appealed. After review, the Delaware Supreme Court determined: (1) Taylor waived his right to object to the “sole issue” statutory requirement - the State and counsel agreed the plea hearing could be conducted in two parts; (2) Taylor did not cooperate with the presentence investigation; (3) defense counsel’s refusal to withdraw Taylor’s plea violated Taylor’s Sixth Amendment autonomy interest to decide the objective of his defense (having represented to the court that Taylor was competent to plead guilty, defense counsel should have followed Taylor’s demand to withdraw his plea before the court accepted it); (4) under Superior Court Criminal Rule 11, before adjudicating a defendant guilty but mentally ill by plea, the court must address the defendant in open court and be satisfied that the defendant is entering his plea knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily - before the court accepted Taylor’s plea, he objected, thus, Taylor could not have entered his plea voluntarily. The Supreme Court therefore vacated Taylor’s conviction, and remanded this case back to the superior court for his counsel to review with Taylor whether he should withdraw his plea. If he was competent to make the decision and insisted on withdrawing his guilty but mentally ill plea, the court should allow Taylor to withdraw his plea and proceed to trial. View "Taylor v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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Jerry Longford-Myers has had his share of encounters with the law. The portions of those encounters relevant to this case began on August 10, 201: Longford-Myers pleaded guilty to one count of maintaining a dwelling for keeping controlled substances, and the Superior Court sentenced him to two years’ imprisonment suspended for one year of probation. In a case unrelated to the 2011 "Maintaining Case," Longford-Myers pleaded guilty in 2012 to possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony (“PFDCF”) and drug dealing. The Superior Court sentenced Longford-Myers to eight years’ imprisonment suspended after three years for 18 months’ probation for the PFDCF charge and 8 years’ imprisonment suspended for 18 months’ probation for the drug dealing charge. In January 2018, Longford-Myers pleaded guilty to second-degree assault. The conviction that resulted from this plea was a violation of the terms of Longford-Myers’ probation sentences in the 2011 Maintaining Case and the 2012 Firearm/Drug Dealing Case. Because of those probation violations, the Superior Court resentenced Longford-Myers on February 6, 2018. Though the history of this case was "complicated," the issue it presented for the Delaware Supreme Court's review centered on whether, when a Superior Court sentence order contains sentences for multiple convictions, one of which was subject to modification under Superior Court Rule 35(a) because it was illegal, could the court also modify other lawful sentences within the order when it corrected the illegal sentence? The Supreme Court concluded that the Superior Court could not. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the Superior Court judgment and remanded with instructions. View "Longford-Myers v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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The State of Delaware appealed a superior court order that affirmed a determination by the Industrial Accident Board (the Board) that Nicholas Gates was working within the course and scope of his employment when he was injured in a motor vehicle collision. At the time of the collision, Gates was employed by the State as a road-maintenance equipment operator for the Department of Transportation (DelDOT). The collision occurred while he was responding to a “call-back” after his normal work hours. He was called back to attend to a roadside accident. Gates sought workers’ compensation benefits from the State for his injury. At the hearing before the Board, the State argued that State of Delaware Merit Rule 4.16 1 and a document titled “Call-Back Pay Guidelines and Recommended Procedure” (the Call-Back Pay Guidelines) were part of Gates’s employment contract. According to these provisions, Gates was not to be paid for a call-back until he arrived at the DelDOT yard. Because Gates’s collision occurred before he arrived at the yard, the State argued, his injury occurred outside the course and scope of his employment and was, therefore, not compensable under Delaware’s Workers’ Compensation Act (the Act).3 The Board looked to the parties’ prior course of conduct to determine the terms of the employment contract and found that Gates’s injury was compensable under the Act because, based on the parties’ prior course of conduct, he “was working within the course and scope of his employment contract when the motor vehicle accident occurred.” The Superior Court affirmed the Board’s decision. The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court, and therefore the Board. Specifically, the Court determined the Board applied the correct legal standard and acted within its discretion in finding, based on Gates’s unrebutted testimony as to the parties’ course of conduct prior to the collision, that the terms of Gates’s employment contract established he was to be paid for a callback from the time he received the call and that, at the time of the collision, he was working within the course and scope of this contract. These factual findings were supported by substantial evidence; the Board did not err in determining that Gates’s injury was compensable under the Act. View "Delaware v. Gates" on Justia Law

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In late 2013, Steven Baynum broke into his estranged wife’s residence and physically accosted her and her new romantic partner. Approximately one year later, a Superior Court jury found Baynum guilty of first-degree burglary, third-degree assault, offensive touching, and a host of other crimes. After Baynum was sentenced as a habitual offender to 17 years, he appealed and the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed his convictions. Baynum then moved for postconviction relief under Superior Court Criminal Rule 61 claiming, among other things, that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of his rights under the Delaware and United States Constitutions. The Superior Court denied Baynum’s motion, and he once again appealed to the Supreme Court. On appeal, Baynum argued: (1) his lawyers should have asked the trial court to instruct the jury to consider the charge of offensive touching as a lesser-included offense of third-degree assault in connection with his attack on the romantic partner, which would have had the possibility of a lighter sentence, and the corresponding acquittal of the more serious third-degree assault charge would have undermined the State’s prosecution of the first-degree burglary charges, which also had a physical-injury component; and (2) his counsel during his direct appeal made a prejudicial mistake by not appealing the trial court’s refusal to grant a mistrial following the State’s introduction of improper opinion testimony from one of the lead detectives. The Superior Court rejected both of Baynum’s claims. The Delaware Supreme Court agreed with Baynum on his first claim, and reversed the denial of postconviction relief as to the third-degree assault and first-degree burglary convictions. However, the Court disagreed with Baynum on his ineffective-assistance claim against his appellate counsel: the Court saw no reasonable probability that it would have reversed Baynum’s convictions on the ground that the Superior Court should have ordered a mistrial in the wake of the detective’s testimony, which was offered in response to similar testimony elicited by Baynum and was the subject of a curative instruction. The Court therefore affirmed the denial of postconviction relief as to the balance of Baynum’s convictions. View "Baynum v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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In 2015, Jacquez Robinson was indicted for his alleged involvement in separate shootings on November 25 and 26, 2014, which left two people injured and one person dead. The issue his appeal presented for the Delaware Supreme Court's review centered on whether the State violated Robinson’s Sixth Amendment right to the effective assistance of counsel, and if yes, whether the trial court erred in dismissing his indictment for first degree murder. The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s conclusion that the State violated Robinson’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel as a result of its wrongful and unjustified intrusion into his attorney-client privileged materials. "But based upon our assessment of the record, and on our interpretation of 'Morrison’s' requirement that the remedy must be tailored to the harm, we reverse the Superior Court’s dismissal of the indictment. Although the Superior Court has discretion to sanction litigants, it failed to tailor its remedy to the violation and actual prejudice that it found." The trial court’s dismissal of the indictment failed to adequately "preserv[e] society’s interest in the administration of criminal justice." The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Delaware v. Robinson" on Justia Law