Rochester v. State, 37

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Delaware
Writing for the CourtTamika R. Montgomery-Reeves, Justice
PartiesJAMES A. ROCHESTER, Defendant Below, Appellant, v. STATE OF DELAWARE, Appellee.
Decision Date09 June 2022
Docket Number37,2022

JAMES A. ROCHESTER, Defendant Below, Appellant,
v.

STATE OF DELAWARE, Appellee.

No. 37, 2022

Supreme Court of Delaware

June 9, 2022


Submitted: March 31, 2022

Court Below-Superior Court of the State of Delaware Cr. ID No. 1810008309 (K)

Before SEITZ, Chief Justice; TRAYNOR and MONTGOMERY-REEVES, Justices.

ORDER

Tamika R. Montgomery-Reeves, Justice

After consideration of the opening brief, the motion to affirm, and the record on appeal, it appears to the Court that:

(1) The appellant, James A. Rochester, filed this appeal from a Superior Court's order adopting the Commissioner's report and recommendation and denying his first motion for postconviction relief under Superior Court Criminal Rule 61. The State of Delaware has filed a motion to affirm the judgment below on the ground that it is manifest on the face of Rochester's opening brief that his appeal is without merit. We agree and affirm.

(2) In December 2018, a grand jury indicted Rochester for multiple drug and weapon offenses. On April 25, 2019, Rochester filed a motion to suppress

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evidence seized as a result of an unlawful search and seizure. The State filed a response to the motion. The Superior Court held a hearing on the motion on June 10, 2019. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Superior Court denied the motion to suppress, holding that police had probable cause to arrest Rochester and search his car after observing him take a firearm from the trunk of his car, rack the weapon, and conceal it in his waistband.

(3) On June 17, 2019, Rochester pled guilty to drug dealing and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony ("PFDCF") in exchange for dismissal of the other charges. The State agreed to recommend twenty years of Level V incarceration, suspended after eight years. After conducting a guilty plea colloquy and accepting the guilty plea, the Superior Court sentenced Rochester, in accordance with the State's recommendation, as follows: (i) for drug dealing, fifteen years of Level V incarceration, suspended after three years for decreasing levels of supervision; and (ii) for PFDCF, five years of Level V incarceration.

(4) On appeal, Rochester argued that the State violated his constitutional rights by arresting him without probable cause. This Court held that Rochester's knowing and voluntary guilty plea constituted a waiver of the arguments raised in the motion to suppress.[1]

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(5) On June 8, 2020, Rochester filed a timely motion for postconviction relief. Rochester argued that his trial counsel was ineffective. He subsequently filed a motion for appointment of counsel, which the Superior Court denied. After obtaining the affidavit of Rochester's counsel and the State's response to the motion for postconviction relief, a Superior Court Commissioner recommended that the Superior Court deny Rochester's motion. On July 27, 2021, the Superior Court issued an order adopting the Commissioner's report and recommendation and denying Rochester's motion for postconviction relief.

(6) Rochester filed an untimely appeal. After the State informed the Court that the prison mail log supported Rochester's claim that he did not receive the Superior Court's order in time to file a timely appeal, this Court remanded the matter for the Superior Court to reissue the July 2021 order.[2] The Superior Court reissued the order, and this timely appeal followed.

(7) As he did below, Rochester argues in his opening brief that his trial counsel was ineffective in her handling of the motion to suppress. Specifically, he contends that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to impeach the police officers who testified at the suppression hearing with information he provided her, file a motion for reargument, and sufficiently advise him of his appeal rights. We do not

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consider other ineffective assistance of counsel claims that Rochester raised below, but did not argue in his opening brief.[3]

(8) This Court reviews the Superior Court's denial of postconviction relief for abuse of discretion.[4] We review legal or constitutional questions, including claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, de novo.[5] The Court must consider the procedural requirements of Rule 61 before addressing any substantive issues.[6]

(9) The procedural requirements of Rule 61 do not bar Rochester's timely claims of...

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