Court Cases By State - Delaware

Court Cases by Delaware

State v. Morris
1995 WL 562253 (Del. Super.)

Morris, then age 23, was convicted of sexually abusing an 11 year old girl and an 8 year old boy.

In imposing a lengthy sentence, the court expressed concern that he would be a "sexual predator" when he was released from custody. The court denied a motion to reduce the sentence, explaining that the motion "does not begin to address Defendant's life-long problems. Nor does it provide a plan for Defendant's future, commensurate with the level of his problems and the risk he poses to the community." 1995 WL 562253 at *1. This appears to suggest that the court would have been willing to consider a shorter period of imprisonment if the defense had proposed some plan for treatment and effective monitoring.

The court also expressed concern about the failure of the state to help Morris earlier in his life.

"His problems began even before his birth. Defendant's parents were alcoholics. One doctor has opined that Defendant possibly was a victim of Fetal Alcohol syndrome. Defendant has been diagnosed with mental retardation (moderate to mild), Attention Deficit Disorder and Conduct Disorder--socialized aggressive. Before Defendant was 20 months old, he was a ward of the State and has been in foster homes or institutionalized, almost continually, ever since. The State never found a permanent placement, in part, because he carries so much emotional and psychological baggage. It is sad to see how Defendant was moved from one place to another."

1995 WL 562253 at *1.

This case appears to illustrate how a state's failure to deal with the problems of FAS in childhood can cause serious harms once the individual reaches adulthood.

State v. Sullivan
1995 WL 465172 (Del. Super.)

Sullivan was convicted of murder and several other crimes, and sentenced to death. He attacked his conviction on the ground, among other things, that his trial attorney had not investigated whether Sullivan had FAS/FAE, and had not asked to have a psychiatrist appointed to evaluate whether Sullivan had FAS/FAE. The court rejected that claim.

The court proceeded from the premise that the failure to investigate that (or any other) possible mitigating evidence did not constitute ineffective representation if the defendant gave counsel "reason to believe that a line of investigation should not be pursued." 1995 WL 465172 at *8. The court held that Sullivan had given his attorney reason to believe that investigation of FAS/FAE would be unproductive because at his intake interview Sullivan stated that his family did not have a "history of alcoholism." 1995 WL 465172 at *3, *8. However, the record also confirmed that the trial attorney had been told that the mother at that point in time had a drinking problem, and appeared drunk to those who met her. The court does not explain why the attorney was not ineffective in ignoring this information.

The circumstances of this litigation are an important guide for how an attorney should determine whether FAS/FAE needs to be investigated. After the conviction Sullivan was diagnosed with FAS, and the correctness of that diagnosis was not questioned. The critical issue, then, is why his trial attorney mistakenly thought the matter not worth pursuing.

The court noted a variety of factors which led counsel to decide not to pursue this issue. (a) The defendant denied there was a history of alcoholism in his family. (This query may have been unreliable for several reasons. It is unclear what the defendant would have understood to constitute alcoholism. A level of drinking short of alcoholism is sufficient to cause FAS/FAE.) (b) The defendant's mother and sister stated he was "normal" until the age of 8. (What did they mean by "normal"--was this about IQ, behavior, physical appearance, social relationships? Why would an attorney rely on the judgment of a witness whom he knew had a drinking problem?) (c) The hospital record of Sullivan's birth describes him as a healthy newborn with no developmental abnormalities.

The critical problem in the attorney's evaluation is this. At no point did anyone simply ask the mother if she drank during her pregnancy. 1995 WL 465172 at *3. When asked that question following the initial trial, she readily disclosed that she drank two pints of liquor a day during her pregnancy. In retrospect, and for future cases, that seems a simple question that should be asked at least in any capital case.

The court also concluded that a diagnosis of FAS would not have affected the outcome of the sentencing phase because the court recognized after the original sentencing hearing that Sullivan had limited intelligence and reasoning powers. 1995 WL 465172 at *4, *9. This aspect of the decision appears not to understand that the impact of FAS is far more complex than the reduction of I.Q. level.