Bowers v. State, 2719, Sept. Term, 2014.

CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland
Citation133 A.3d 1254,227 Md.App. 310
Docket NumberNo. 2719, Sept. Term, 2014.,2719, Sept. Term, 2014.
Parties Jonathan Eugene BOWERS v. STATE of Maryland.
Decision Date30 March 2016

227 Md.App. 310
133 A.3d 1254

Jonathan Eugene BOWERS
STATE of Maryland.

No. 2719, Sept. Term, 2014.

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland.

March 30, 2016.

133 A.3d 1255

Robert J. Feldman (Paul B. DeWolfe, Public Defender, on the brief) Baltimore, MD, for Appellant.

Jeremy M. McCoy (Brian E. Frosh, Atty. Gen., on the brief) Annapolis, MD, for Appellee.



227 Md.App. 312

Following a guilty plea in the Circuit Court for Somerset County on March 13, 2013, appellant, Jonathan Eugene Bowers, was sentenced to 10 years' incarceration for one count of involuntary manslaughter.1 On December 10, 2014, Bowers filed a motion to correct an illegal sentence pursuant to Md. Rule 4–345 arguing that because the manslaughter sentencing statute,

133 A.3d 1256

Md.Code (2002, 2012, Repl.Vol.), Criminal Law Article ("CR") § 2–207, is ambiguous, he is subject to the rule of lenity which requires that CR § 2–207 be read in his favor. In this case, Bowers asserts that CR § 2–207 should be read as imposing two separate maximum sentences for voluntary and involuntary manslaughter; since he is convicted of involuntary manslaughter, he argues he should be subject to a maximum of 2 years in a local facility and, therefore, his 10–year sentence is illegal. Bowers's motion was denied by the circuit court on January 20, 2015. This appeal follows.

On appeal, Bowers presents the following question for our review:2

227 Md.App. 313
Did the circuit court properly deny Bowers's motion to correct an illegal sentence?

After a careful consideration of Maryland criminal law cases, authority, and legislative history, we hold that Bowers's 10–year sentence for involuntary manslaughter is not illegal.


On October 27, 2012, at approximately 3:52 a.m., officers from the Somerset County Sheriff's Department responded to a report of an unconscious individual. When they arrived, the officers saw Bowers seated on the side of the road with his hands in the air. The unconscious individual was Bowers's father, Jonathan David Bowers. The senior Bowers was lying motionless and bleeding from his face.

When the officers returned to Bowers, he had his hands in the air, and said "he and his father [ ] were arguing and they had gotten into a fight and it happened real fast." Witnesses on the scene reported that Bowers and his father were seen arguing earlier in the evening, and that later on, during the altercation, Bowers repeatedly kicked his father, uttering "in a distressed, emotional state that he hoped [his father] was dead." Bowers was escorted to the officers' patrol unit in handcuffs. Approximately an hour later, Bowers's father was pronounced dead from "head and neck injuries as a result of multiple blunt force impact."

Bowers is a former United States Marine and has completed two combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bowers suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD")3 as a result of

227 Md.App. 314

the numerous traumatic events his experienced in combat. He contends that at the time he killed his father, he " was in a dissociated rage state for the period following the initial blows ... [and] he was not consciously aware of his actions" as a result of the PTSD.

Bowers was originally indicted for first-degree murder and a series of lesser offenses.

133 A.3d 1257

In exchange for the non-prosecution of the remaining charges, Bowers pleaded guilty to one count of involuntary manslaughter. Bowers received a 10–year sentence to be served in the custody of the Commissioner of Corrections. He filed this timely appeal arguing that the imposition of a 10–year sentence for involuntary manslaughter is illegal.


In Maryland, manslaughter remains a common law crime with a prescribed statutory penalty. State v. Gibson, 4 Md.App. 236, 241–44, 242 A.2d 575 (1968), aff'd, 254 Md. 399, 254 A.2d 691 (1969). In other words, the elements for the unlawful act of manslaughter have not been defined by the legislature but remain in its common law form.4 Moore v.

227 Md.App. 315

State, 194 Md.App. 327, 370, 4 A.3d 96 (2010) ; rev'd on other grounds, 422 Md. 516, 30 A.3d 945 (2011). The statutorily prescribed penalty for manslaughter is found in CR § 2–207 and provides, in pertinent part:


(a) A person who commits manslaughter is guilty of a felony and on conviction is subject to:

(1) imprisonment not exceeding 10 years; or

(2) imprisonment in a local correctional facility not exceeding 2 years or a fine not exceeding $500 or both.

Bowers avers that the maximum penalty he should have received under the statute should have been 2 years and, therefore, his 10–year sentence for involuntary manslaughter is illegal. He argues that because the manslaughter statute provides what he considers to be two possible maximum penalties, the language of the manslaughter statute is inherently ambiguous. As a result of this ambiguity, Bowers argues that he is entitled to the application of the rule of lenity.5 He urges us to adopt a construction of the statute that places the 10–year maximum penalty provision

133 A.3d 1258

on a

227 Md.App. 316

voluntary manslaughter conviction and the 2–year maximum penalty on an involuntary manslaughter conviction.

I. Bowers did not waive his illegal sentence claim by failing to object or because he entered into a plea agreement.

In response to Bowers's appeal, the State first argues that Bowers "waived his illegal sentence claim by consenting to the terms of the plea agreement with the State." His knowing and voluntary plea agreement for involuntary manslaughter, the State explains, required that he expressly acknowledge his understanding that "the maximum penalty for involuntary manslaughter is 10 years in jail." At sentencing, the State continues, Bowers not only failed to object to the legality of his sentencing, but he requested a sentence of up to 5 years' imprisonment, which, while being within the sentencing guidelines, exceeds what Bowers now argues to be the "maximum" 2–year sentence for involuntary manslaughter. The State relies on Chaney v. State, 397 Md. 460, 918 A.2d 506 (2007), for the proposition that a "sentence may not be attacked belatedly and collaterally through a motion under [Md.] Rule 4–345(a), and ... the defendant is not excused from having to raise a timely objection in the trial court."

We disagree with the State and do not find that Bowers waived his appeal of his sentence. Md. Rule 4–345(a) permits the court to "correct an illegal sentence at any time." Thus, an appellate court "may correct an illegal sentence on appeal even if no objection was made in the trial court," Leopold v. State, 216 Md.App. 586, 609, 88 A.3d 860 (2014) (citations omitted), because "a defendant who fails to object to the imposition of an illegal sentence does not waive forever his right to challenge that sentence." Walczak v. State, 302 Md. 422, 427, 488 A.2d 949 (1985) (citing Coles v. State, 290 Md. 296, 303, 429 A.2d 1029 (1981) ). Further, contrary to the State's assertion, "a guilty plea would not alter the illegality of the sentence imposed." Stevenson v. State, 180 Md.App. 440, 447, 951 A.2d 875 (2008) (citations omitted). The State's reliance on Chaney is misguided because the Chaney Court

227 Md.App. 317

distinguished between deficient sentences and illegal sentences, limiting illegal sentences "to those situations in which the illegality inheres in the sentence itself." Chaney, 397 Md. at 466, 918 A.2d 506. The Court held that deficient sentences, not illegal sentences, "may not be attacked belatedly and collaterally through a motion under [Md.] Rule 4–345(a)." Id. In the instant matter, Bowers, by questioning the interpretation of the statute as a whole, is challenging his sentence as one whose "illegality inheres in the sentence itself," id., and thus, he is well within his rights to challenge it on appeal.

II. Bowers's 10–year sentence for involuntary manslaughter is not illegal.

In order for Bowers to receive the benefit of the rule of lenity, the Maryland manslaughter statute must be considered ambiguous. See, e.g., Melton v. State, 379 Md. 471, 488, 842 A.2d 743 (2004) (noting that the rule of lenity applies to "ambiguous units of prosecution and penalty provisions in criminal statutes"). If the language of the statute is clear and unambiguous, the analysis of a statute is over. People's Ins. Counsel Div. v. Allstate Ins. Co., 408 Md. 336, 351, 969 A.2d 971 (2009). A statute is ambiguous if it is reasonably susceptible to more than one meaning: if it is...

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