Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court

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Appellant Justin Burrell, who was three months shy of his eighteenth birthday at the time the crimes were committed, was convicted by jury of first-degree murder, manslaughter, first-degree robbery, second-degree burglary, second-degree conspiracy, and four counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony (“PFDCF”). He was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of probation or parole for the first-degree-murder charge plus 50 years’ imprisonment for the remaining charges. In 2012, the United States Supreme Court decided Miller v. Alabama, which declared unconstitutional mandatory life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders. In response to this ruling, the Delaware General Assembly enacted legislation modifying the juvenile sentencing scheme. At his resentencing, Burrell did not contest the applicability of the new 11 Del. C. Section 4209A’s 25- year minimum mandatory sentence to his first-degree-murder conviction, but argued that the court should not impose any additional statutory minimum mandatory incarceration for his five other convictions (first-degree robbery, second-degree burglary, and the three counts of PFDCF) on the grounds that such additional sentences would run afoul of Miller. The Superior Court disagreed and resentenced Burrell to the minimum mandatory 25 years’ imprisonment for the first-degree-murder charge plus an additional minimum mandatory 12 years’ incarceration for the other offenses. Burrell broadens his challenge to the Delaware Supreme Court, arguing the Superior Court erred when it imposed the 25-year minimum mandatory sentence for the first-degree-murder charge and the additional 12 years for the companion offenses. Further, he claimed the sentencing statutes were unconstitutionally “overbroad.” Finding no abuse of discretion or other reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed Burrell's convictions and sentences. View "Burrell v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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Two 16-year-old high school students got into a shouting match in the girls' bathroom. Things turned physical when Tracy Cannon threw Alcee Johnson-Franklin to the ground and started throwing punches. Alcee tried to protect herself from the blows, and the two ended up on the floor of the bathroom, grappling and kicking at each other. It was over in less than a minute, but within two hours of the assault, Alcee was pronounced dead, not from blunt-force trauma, but from a rare heart condition that even Alcee did not know she had. This tragic result prompted the State to charge Tracy with criminally negligent homicide, and, after a five-day bench trial in Family Court, she was adjudicated delinquent. Tracy appealed, arguing no reasonable factfinder could have found that she acted with criminal negligence or, even if she did, that it would be just to blame her for Alcee’s death given how unforeseeable it was that her attack would cause a 16-year-old to die from cardiac arrest. The Delaware Supreme Court agreed: a defendant cannot be held responsible for criminally negligent homicide unless there was a risk of death of such a nature and degree that her failure to see it was a gross deviation from what a reasonable person would have understood, and no reasonable factfinder could conclude that Tracy’s attack - which inflicted only minor physical injuries - posed a risk of death so great that Tracy was grossly deviant for not recognizing it. View "Cannon v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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A vice principal of an elementary school asked a Delaware State Trooper to come to the school give a talk about bullying to four or five fifth grade students who were under “in-school suspension.” The next day, the principal was told that there had been a bullying incident involving an autistic student whose money had been taken from him on the school bus by "AB." The principal told AB’s mother about the incident, and asked her permission to have the officer talk to AB. AB’s mother consented. The officer arrived and was told what happened. The principal and officer went to a room where AB was waiting. The principal was called away, leaving the officer alone with AB. The officer got AB to admit that he had the money (one dollar), but AB claimed that another student had taken the money. AB said that he did not know that other student’s name, but that the student was seated with AB on the school bus. Without discussing the matter with the principal, the officer followed up on AB’s claim despite being virtually certain that AB was the perpetrator. The officer obtained the bus seating chart, found AB's seat-mate, brought the two students together and questioned that student in the same manner as AB. According to the other child, the officer used a mean voice and told him 11 or 12 times that he had the authority to arrest the children and place them in jail if they did not tell the truth. AB finally admitted to taking the money from the autistic student. When he got home from school, the seat-mate told his mother what had happened. The child withdrew from school and was home schooled for the rest of that school year. The mother filed suit on her son’s behalf, as well as individually, against the Cape Henlopen School District, the Board of Education of Cape Henlopen School District, the principal, the State, the Department of Safety and Homeland Security, the Division of the Delaware State Police, and the officer, Trooper Pritchett (collectively, Pritchett). Charges against all but the officer were eventually settled or dismissed; Pritchett successfully moved for summary judgment, and this appeal followed. Viewing the record in the light most favorable to the child, the Supreme Court held that there was sufficient evidence to raise issues of material fact on all claims against the officer except a battery claim. Accordingly, the Court affirmed in part and reversed in part. View "Hunt v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed from a Family Court sentencing order initially entered when he was a juvenile where he robbed a woman with a BB gun. Defendant contended that the Family Court did not have the authority to sentence him, at the outset, to twelve months of adult probation following his juvenile commitment. Because the statute the Family Court relied upon affirmatively provided only two circumstances, not present in this case, where the Family Court could sentence a juvenile to adult probation, the court found that the General Assembly intended to limit the authority of the Family Court to impose adult consequences on the juvenile. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for a correction of the sentence order. View "Brown v. State" on Justia Law