State v. Watson, ID. 1703002846A&B

CourtSuperior Court of Delaware
Writing for the CourtCalvin L. Scott, Jr., Judge
PartiesSTATE OF DELAWARE, v. KHALIF WATSON, Defendant.
Docket NumberID. 1703002846A&B
Decision Date26 October 2022

STATE OF DELAWARE,
v.

KHALIF WATSON, Defendant.

ID. No. 1703002846A&B

Superior Court of Delaware

October 26, 2022


John S. Taylor, Esquire, Deputy Attorney General, Attorney for the State of Delaware.

Natalie S. Woloshin, Esquire, Woloshin, Lynch &Associates, P.A., Pro Se.

ORDER

Calvin L. Scott, Jr., Judge

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INTRODUCTION

Before the Court is Defendant Khalif Watson's ("Defendant") Amended Motion for Postconviction Relief ("Motion"). Defendant filed the instant Motion for Postconviction Relief as well as a motion for appointment of counsel on August 1, 2019. The Court granted the request and Defendant was appointed counsel. On November 30, 2021, appointed counsel filed an Amended Motion for PostConviction Relief. This Court will consider Defendant's Amended Motion for Postconviction Relief, the State of Delaware's ("State") response, Trial Counsel's filed affidavit, and Defendant's reply. For the reasons stated below, Defendant's Motion for Postconviction Relief is GRANTED, in part, DENIED, in part.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On April 3, 2017, a Delaware grand jury returned a five-count indictment, charging Defendant with Possession of a Firearm by a Person Prohibited (PFBPP); Possession of Ammunition by a Person Prohibited (PABPP); Carrying a Concealed Deadly Weapon (CCDW); and Resisting Arrest. An oral motion to sever the two person prohibited offenses was presented to the court and granted on January 3, 2018.

On January 3, 2018, a jury trial was held on the CCDW and Resisting Arrest charges and two days later the jury returned a verdict of guilty on both counts. The

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Court then conducting a bench trial on the PFBPP and PABPP charges and render a verdict of guilty as to both offenses.

On September 27, 2018, Defendant was sentenced to an aggregate Level 5 sentence of 10 years and a Corrective Sentence was ordered on August 31, 2018, to reflect only the removal of aggravating factor.

No direct appeal was filed. On July 20, 2019, Defendant filed a Pro Se Motion for Postconviction Relief and Motion for Appointment of Counsel. Additionally, Defendant also filed a pro se "Motion to Amend" on August 1, 2019. On August 5, 2020, this Court granted Defendant's Motion for Counsel and Office of Conflicts' Counsel appointed Postconviction Counsel.

FACTS

On March 4, 2017, Defendant allegedly fled from police contact because there was a handgun on his person when holding a status of person prohibited. Defendant fled to his sister Rashida Hidson's ("Rashida") home where he was tackled by a police officer as he crossed the threshold. At the same time, the tackling officer observed Defendant throw a handgun that had been in his waist underneath a couch. A second officer attempted to detain Defendant. Defendant's sister picked up the handgun and ran out of the home where she was apprehended by officers not far from the residence.

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At trial, the defense called four witnesses, Defendant and his three sisters. Defendant testified that he did not have a gun that day and claimed he fled because he knew he had an outstanding capias and did not want to go to jail. One of Defendant's sisters, Omisha Watson ("Omisha") claimed the gun was hers and that she had it in her bookbag when the police arrived. Asha Watson ("Asha") claimed she did not see Defendant with a gun. Rashida Hinson claimed that Omisha owned a silver gun and that she did not see Defendant discard anything in the police encounter. Finally, Defendant took the stand in his own defense and admitted that he fled upon seeing police officers. Defendant asserted he knew about his outstanding capias and fled because he felt like the walls were closing in on him, thinking it was an option to avoid jail. Defendant conceded he resisted arrest, however, he maintained he did not have a gun on the date in question. Defendant's prior convictions for a 2010 Robbery Second and a 2012 Federal Firearms charge were entered without objection and then were used by the State in closing arguments to attack Defendant's credibility.

DEFENDANT'S ASSERTIONS

On the face of Defendant's Amended Motion, one ground for postconviction relief is asserted: ineffective assistance of counsel. Defendant contends Trial Counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the admission of one of Defendant's prior convictions and for failing to object to misconduct by the prosecutor.

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Additionally, Defendant contends Trial Counsel was ineffective for failing to file a direct appeal. In Defendant's reply, he further argues ineffective assistance of counsel because Defendant alleges Trial Counsel never discussed an appeal with him, never asked if he wanted to appeal, never told him what possible grounds he had for an appeal or the probable outcome of an appeal. Defendant alleges that had the appeal options been presented to him, he would have appealed, with or without Trial Counsel's help.

DISCUSSION

I. No Procedural Bar Exist to Preclude Court from Analyzing Defendant's Claim

The Court must address Defendant's motion in regard to Rule 61(i) procedural requirements before assessing the merits of his motion.[1] If a procedural bar exists, then the Court will not consider the merits of the postconviction claim.[2]

Rule 61(i)(1) bars motions for postconviction relief if the motion is filed more than one year from final judgment.[3] Defendant's Motion is not time barred by Rule 61(i)(1) because Defendant filed this Motion within one year of his conviction becoming final. Rule 61(i)(2)[4] bars successive postconviction motions, which is not

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applicable as this is Defendant's first postconviction motion. Rule 61(i)(3) bars relief if the motion includes claims not asserted in the proceedings leading to the final judgment.[5] This bar is applicable to Defendant's claims. Ordinarily, ineffective assistance of counsel cannot have been raised in any direct appeal, therefore the procedural bar would not apply. Finally, Rule 61(i)(4) bars relief if the motion is based on a formally adjudicated ground.[6] This bar does not apply. Therefore, no procedural bar exists in the present case. The Court must analyze the merits of Defendant's Motion.

II. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Claims

A. Standard of Review

Delaware has adopted the two-prong test proffered in Strickland v. Washington to evaluate ineffective assistance of counsel claims.[7] To succeed on an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, a petitioner must demonstrate that "counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness"[8] and that "there is a reasonable probability that but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different."[9]

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To avoid the "distorting effects of hindsight," counsel's actions are afforded a strong presumption of reasonableness.[10] The "benchmark for judging any claim of ineffectiveness [is to] be whether counsel's conduct so undermined the proper functioning of the adversarial process that the trial cannot be relied on as having produced a just result."[11] The Court's objective in evaluating counsel's conduct is to "reconstruct the circumstances of counsel's challenged conduct, and to evaluate the conduct from counsel's perspective at the time."[12]

B. As to Trial Counsel's decision to not object to Defendant's prior convictions, Defendant fails to prove the result would have been different had the convictions not be admitted.

Based on the facts before this Court, Trial Counsel's actions do not constitute ineffective assistance of counsel under Strickland because there is no harm in Trial Counsel's decision not to explicitly object to Defendant's prior convictions. According to the record, there is no indication that the outcome would have been different had Trial Counsel objected to their admission. The jury was advised in its jury instructions that the jury may consider evidence of the defendant's previous conviction "for the sole purposes of judging the defendant's credibility, or believability" and the convictions may be considered evidence of defendant's guilt

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or innocence. Defendant fails to allege or prove the outcome of Defendant's conviction would be different if the convictions were excluded. Therefore, there is no viable ineffective assistance of counsel claim.

Defendant's Motion for Postconviction Relief based on Ineffective Assistance of Counsel due to Trial Counsel's decision to not object to Defendant's prior convictions is DENIED.

C. As to Defendant's allegations concerning Trial Counsel failing to inform Defendant of appellate rights.

An affidavit from Trial Counsel states Trial Counsel can "only say [he] advised Mr. Watson of his right [to appeal] as well as members of his family" and "it appears [he] did not send Mr. Watson [his] standard letter advising him of his right to appeal as is [his] usual practice" The Court, nonetheless, determines that Defendant should be permitted to file an appeal to the Supreme Court because counsel admits that he erred by not advising Defendant in writing of his constitutional right to appeal. A claim of ineffective assistance of counsel by a defendant is not procedurally barred because a "claim of ineffective assistance of counsel is a constitutional violation that undermines the fundamental legality, reliability, integrity or fairness of a proceeding."[13] In this case, there is no record of an appeal being docketed with the Supreme Court. Moreover, in responding to

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Defendant's allegations, Defendant's attorney admits that he failed to advise him in writing of his right to...

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