Baldwin v. Delaware

Rule 61 is effectively a “gating mechanism” allowing a superior court to summarily dismiss certain claims. Appellant Cleveland Baldwin appealed a superior court’s summary dismissal of his first timely motion for postconviction relief. The charges against Baldwin that led to the convictions he sought to overturn were based on the allegation that he, along with two other men, assaulted a tenant who supposedly owed Baldwin’s aunt back rent. To wit, the State alleged that Baldwin confronted the victim, complained that he had disrespected his aunt, and pulled a pipe out of his pants and beat him with it. The Superior Court Rule of Criminal Procedure that governs postconviction relief, Rule 61, strikes a balance between fair consideration of postconviction claims and the preservation of scarce defense resources by granting access to counsel for certain first petitions, but also by allowing the superior court to weed out, by summary dismissal, claims that lack colorable merit. Here, the Superior Court used the mechanism of Rule 61 to summarily dismiss all the claims of a first petitioner without appointment of counsel for him, without adversarial briefing, and without any factual record beyond the form petition and trial record. On appeal, the Delaware Supreme Court concluded that the superior court was correct in most of its rulings, but that as to one claim, the superior court erred by not recognizing the potential merits of the claim and appointing counsel for the petitioner to present it in a more adequate way. View "Baldwin v. Delaware" on Justia Law