Former Smyrna teacher’s appeal in sex abuse case denied

DOVER — A former Smyrna High teacher’s claim of ineffective counsel representation during a 2013 sexual abuse case was denied in a Delaware Supreme Court ruling Monday.

Donovan J. Garvin was seeking post-conviction relief, alleging that his counsel coerced him to plead guilty, didn’t push evidence indicating the student was the aggressor, and was misled on prison sentencing guidelines, among other concerns.

An earlier plea for post-conviction relief was rejected in Superior Court on Aug. 18, 2015. Garvin appealed to the Supreme Court on Oct. 7, 2015, and Superior Court’s judgment was affirmed by Chief Justice Leo Strine and Justices Karen Valihura and Randy Holland.

On Aug. 28, 2013, according to court papers, Garvin pleaded guilty to first-degree sexual abuse of a child by a person of trust, and 44 indicted counts including sexual solicitation of a child and possession of child pornography were not further prosecuted by the state.

12dsn Donovan J. Garvin by .

Donovan J. Garvin

A plea agreement involved immediate sentencing of 25 years of Level V incarceration imposed, suspended after 13 years, documents said. Garvin did not file a direct appeal, according to papers.

Garvin was arrested on Jan. 7, 2013, after the Smyrna Police Department investigated allegations involving a female student. He was indicted in April 2013.

Court papers indicated that original charges arose from alleged contact with three children — two under age 18 and another under age 16.

On Nov. 25, 2013, Garvin filed a motion for postconviction relief in Superior Court, papers said.

Other parts of his ineffective counsel claim included a failure to raise various mitigating factors at sentencing, attorney failure to research or investigate the case, a lack of communication with counsel, and a guilty plea not supported by sufficient evidence, papers showed.

According to the Supreme Court’s ruling, Garvin told Superior Court that he intentionally engaged in sexual relations alleged, freely and voluntarily pleaded guilty and signed a truth-in-sentencing guilty plea indicating that nobody had threatened or forced him to plead guilty.

Garvin’s claim that the teenager was the aggressor was rejected, the Supreme Court ruled, because a child under 16 can’t consent to a sexual act with a person more than four years older than the child. The Court noted that Garvin was in his 30s at the time of the alleged incidents.

The Court also said it found Garvin was not misinformed on sentencing issues.

The defendant’s lack of a previous record was presented at Superior Court sentencing as a mitigating factor, according to the Supreme Court.

Also, the Supreme Court wrote, “Garvin also fails to recognize that these claims are inconsistent with a mitigating factor that the Court did take into account in imposing the sentence — Garvin’s acceptance of responsibility for his actions.

“To the extent Garvin relies on newspaper reports of convictions and sentences imposed in different sexual abuse case, those cases, which appear to involve fewer victims, different charges, and different convictions, do not support his ineffectiveness claims.”

Garvin did not produce any “concrete allegations of actual prejudice” by his counsel, the Supreme Court found.

“Given the number of serious charges against him and decades of imprisonment that he faced, Garvin received a clear benefit from his guilty plea,” the ruling stated.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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