Delaware Supreme Court vacates Dover burglary conviction

DOVER — A Dover man’s 2010 conviction on burglary and unlawful imprisonment charges was vacated last week after the Delaware Supreme Court ruled he was not properly instructed on the ramifications of self-representation at trial.

According to the ruling issued Thursday, William E. Morrison Jr. “was not fully apprised of the dangers of self-representation after a discussion by the trial judge.”

The ruling found the Superior Court trial judge “failed to inform Morrison of the nature of the charges, the statutory offenses included within them, the range of allowable punishments, possible defenses, possible circumstances in mitigation and the dangers of the dual roles of being an attorney and the accused …”

Thus, the case was sent back to Superior Court for a new trial.

According to court papers, Mr. Morrison informed the judge on Jan. 19, 2010, that he was not satisfied with appointed defense counsel and wanted to represent himself. After discussion with the judge, Mr. Morrison was granted pro se status; his previous attorney was appointed as standby counsel.

Mr. Morrison was convicted of second-degree burglary, second-degree unlawful imprisonment and offensive touching on April 6, 2010, in connection with an alleged entry into a woman’s apartment, subsequent physical force to take her into a living room and the threat of a gun, according to court documents.

When announcing an arrest, the Dover Police Department said the alleged incident occurred on July 24, 2009, at the Country Club Apartments in Dover. Mr. Morrison, 41 at the time, was arrested two days later.

Mr. Morrison was declared a habitual offender and sentenced to eight years of prison time, followed by a year of Level III probation on the burglary count, papers said.

He received a year of prison time for the unlawful imprisonment, suspended for a year of Level IV work release. The offensive touching count brought a $50 fine.

Mr. Morrison submitted an appeal on Jan. 20, and the Supreme Court determined, “The record reflects Morrison’s waiver of his right to counsel was not knowing, intelligent and voluntary.”

In its ruling, the Supreme Court acknowledged the trial judge “discussed Morrison’s criminal history, level of education, warned him about having to abide by the court’s rules, and addressed the challenges of having a trained adversary as an attorney.”

Citing case law similar to Morrison’s, the Supreme Court pointed to reversals and remanding both convictions for a new trial.

“Even though Morrison asserted he would like to proceed pro se, the trial judge was still responsible for conducting ‘a comprehensive evidentiary hearing to explore and explain the defendant’s options,’ “ the Supreme Court maintained.

“ ,,, The record reflects that the trial judge’s inquiry was not sufficiently searching to establish that Morrison’s waiver was understanding and voluntary.”

The matter was reviewed by Supreme Court justices Randy Holland, Karen Valihura and James T. Vaughn Jr.

On March 11, 2011, Morrison appealed to the court regarding witness testimony at his trial, a prosecutor’s failure to ask the witness if she was being truthful and improper police investigation.

Chief Justice Myron Steele and justices Holland and Henry Ridgely ruled the appeal was without merit on April 25, 2011.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.

Facebook Comment