State v. Carney, ID 1910011637

CourtSuperior Court of Delaware
Writing for the CourtFerris W. Wharton, J.
PartiesSTATE OF DELAWARE v. DEONTA CARNEY, Defendant.
Docket NumberID 1910011637,1910002022,2009010583,VOP16110110891
Decision Date18 November 2022

STATE OF DELAWARE
v.

DEONTA CARNEY, Defendant.

ID No. 1910011637, 1910002022, 2009010583, VOP16110110891

Superior Court of Delaware

November 18, 2022


Date Submitted: August 1, 2022

Upon Defendant Deonta Carney's Motion to Withdraw Guilty Pleas DENIED.

Anthony J. Hill, Esquire and John S. Taylor, Esquire, Deputy Attorneys General, DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, 820 North French Street, Wilmington, Delaware, 19801, Attorneys for the State.

Megan J. Davies, Esquire, LAW OFFICES OF MEGAN J. DAVIES, 716 N. Tatnall Street, Wilmington, Delaware 19801, Attorney for Defendant Deonta Carney.

ORDER

Ferris W. Wharton, J.

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This 18th day of November, 2022, upon consideration of Defendant Deonta Carney's ("Carney") Motion to Withdraw Guilty Plea and the State's responses, it appears to the Court that:

1. On July 12, 2021, Carney rejected a plea offer in case number 1910011637.[1] The plea would have resolved four cases encompassing 27 charges.[2]The plea offer called for Carney to plead guilty to five charges - two counts of Robbery Second Degree (as lesser included offenses of Robbery First Degree), two counts of Possession of a Firearm by a Person Prohibited ("PFBPP"), and Illegal Gang Participation and to admit to a violation of probation.[3] In exchange, the State agreed to entered a nollo prosequi on all remaining charges, recommend the minimum mandatory sentence at Level V (10 years), and agreed that the "VOP be reimposed with no additional unsuspended level five time."[4]

2. Following the plea rejection, case number 1910011637 was set for trial on July 20, 2021.[5] However, before opening statements and upon learning the State's out-of-state "critical civilian witness" was present,[6] Carney informed the

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State through counsel that he wished to plead guilty.[7] The State extended the same offer Carney had rejected before, but with a notable difference - the State removed the cap on its sentencing recommendation.[8] While less favorable to Carney than the earlier rejected plea offer, this plea offer benefitted Carney by limiting his exposure to minimum mandatory sentences and lowering his overall statutory maximum punishment.[9] Carney accepted the plea.

3. After executing a Plea Agreement and Truth-in-Sentencing Guilty Plea Form, the Court conducted an extensive colloquy with Carney.[10] He was informed again of the minimum mandatory and maximum possible penalties,[11] the rights he was giving up by pleading guilty,[12] and asked whether he was coerced into pleading or dissatisfied with his representation.[13] Carney responded that he was neither coerced nor dissatisfied.[14] The Court found "the plea to be knowingly, voluntarily

3

and intelligently offered and [accepted all pleas]."[15] A presentence investigation was ordered, and sentencing was scheduled for September 24, 2021.[16]

4. Despite the extensive colloquy, Carney developed second thoughts. He filed a pro se Motion to Withdraw Guilty Plea on August 3, 2021 which was referred to his counsel.[17] On October 21, 2021, John S. Malik, Esquire filed a Motion to Withdraw Guilty Plea on Carney's behalf, including a copy of Carney's pro se motion as an attachment.[18] Counsel represented, and the pro se motion argued, that Carney was seeking to withdraw his guilty pleas in part because they were the product of ineffective assistance of counsel.

5. At a hearing on March 15, 2022, the Court permitted counsel to withdraw and confirmed with Carney that he desired that counsel be appointed for him to assist his in attempting to withdraw his guilty pleas.[19] The Court ordered that new counsel be appointed for Carney and Megan J. Davies, Esquire subsequently was appointed to represent Carney. The Court then ordered that the State provide Ms. Davies with

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certain discovery by June 24, 2022 and that she file any supplemental material or an amended motion to withdraw guilty plea by July 15, 2022.[20]

6. On July 14, 2022, Carney's current counsel, Ms. Davies, filed his third and final submission in the form of a supplemental brief.[21] The State has filed two responses in opposition - the first in response to the original motion filed by Mr. Malik and the second in response to Ms. Davies' supplemental brief.[22]

7. Carney argues that he should be allowed to withdraw his plea because it was the product of ineffective assistance counsel,[23] it was not knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently entered, and it was entered despite him being innocent of one of the PFBPP charges.[24] He also contends that the State would not be prejudiced if his motion is granted.[25]

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8. The State counters that Carney has no grounds for withdrawing his guilty plea - he is not actually innocent of the PFBPP charge; his counsel was not ineffective; and the State would be unduly prejudice if the Motion were granted.[26]It argues that granting the Motion would give Carney another opportunity to make sure the witnesses appear, only to change his mind and plead guilty at the 11th hour if they do.[27]

9. A guilty plea may be withdrawn before sentencing,[28] but a defendant has no absolute right to do so.[29] The defendant bears the "substantial"[30] burden of showing "any fair and just reason" for withdrawal.[31] The decision to grant or deny withdrawal is within the Court's discretion.[32]

10. To determine whether there is a "fair and just" reason for withdrawal of a guilty plea, the Court must address the following: a) Was there a procedural defect in taking the plea;

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b) Did the defendant knowingly and voluntarily consent to the plea agreement;
c) Does the defendant presently have a basis to assert legal innocence;
d) Did the defendant have adequate legal counsel throughout the proceedings; and e) Does granting the motion prejudice the State or unduly inconvenience the Court.[33]

The Court does not balance these factors.[34] Instead, "[c]ertain of the factors, standing alone, will themselves justify relief."[35]

11. There were no procedural defects in the plea colloquy. Carney admits that there were no defects in the colloquy.[36] The Court agrees and finds that the "numerous protections" afforded to Carney were honored.

12. Carney's plea was entered into knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily. Barring clear and convincing evidence to the contrary, defendants are bound by the representations they make during their plea colloquy.[37] These statements are "presumed to be truthful"[38] and pose a "formidable barrier to a collateral attack on a guilty plea."[39] At no point during his colloquy did Carney so

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much as insinuate his plea was not knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily entered.[40] He informed the court that he was satisfied with his attorney's representation.[41] He denied being forced into pleading guilty.[42] and he stated that he understood all the terms of the of his plea agreement.[43] In addition to his own words, his trial counsel's representations to the Court support the conclusion that Carney entered into the plea with a full understanding of it. Specifically, Mr. Malik stated that he believed that "based upon [his] discussions with him, that Mr. Carney is prepared at this time to enter a knowing, voluntary and intelligent plea before the Court."[44] Based on the above record, and as it did when the plea was entered, the Court finds that Carney entered his guilty plea knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily.

13. Carney does not have a basis to establish factual or legal innocence. When seeking to withdraw their guilty pleas, criminal defendants remain presumptively bound by their representations to the Court.[45] So, after pleading guilty, a defendant must present "some other support" to overcome their plea and to

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assert innocence.[46] There is no mention of innocence in Carney's pro se filing.[47] The first mention of this consideration is in trial counsel's follow-up motion where counsel simply states that:

[s]ubsequent to the filing of his pro se motion to withdraw his guilty plea, Mr. Carney has indicated to counsel his belief that alleged inconsistencies in the police reports provide a basis to claim factual innocence given alleged misidentification of the perpetrators of the robbery by the alleged victim.[48]

In his third submission, Carney explains that he plead guilty to PFBPP in case 1910011637 despite being innocent.[49] He argues that he neither actually possessed nor jointly possessed the gun.[50] Carney bolsters this argument by pointing to the uncertainty in Det. Hayman's Investigative Narrative as to who possessed the gun and when.[51] The date of the alleged incident described in Det. Hayman's report is August 22, 2019.[52] For Carney, these points justify withdrawal.

14. The State first correctly points out that Carney misidentifies the case number for which he claims innocence. Carney references Det. Hayman's report to

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support his claim.[53] Det. Hayman's report relates to case number 1910002022, not case number 1910011637 as Carney states.[54] More substantively, the State argues that Det. Hayman's report supports a conclusion that Carney, at a minimum, is guilty of constructive possession of the firearm.[55]

15. The proper starting point for addressing Carney's contention that he is innocent of one of the PFBPP charges to which he pled guilty is the plea colloquy. Before accepting his pleas, as to each charge, the Court read that particular count to Carney, asked him if he understood the charge, asked him if he committed that offense, and asked him what his plea was.[56] Specifically, as to the charge for which Carney now claims innocence, the exchange between the Court and Carney was as follows:

THE COURT: The next charge is possession of a firearm by a person prohibited, which is Count IV of that same indictment that includes the last robbery charge, and it reads that you, on or before [sic] the 22nd day
...

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