Bratt v. State

Decision Date28 April 2020
Docket NumberNo. 39,39
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland


The Court of Appeals held that the failure to award credit for time served against a sentence was not an illegality to which Rule 4-345 applies. Rather, Rule 4-345 applies to substantive illegalities that exist in the sentence itself. Failure to award credit is a procedural defect that is not appropriately addressed by a motion to correct an illegal sentence because it has no impact on the substance of the sentence or whether the sentence is permitted by law. Accordingly, the Court held that Petitioner was not entitled to a hearing under Rule 4-345.

Rule 4-351 is the appropriate vehicle to address the failure to award credit for time served because Rule 4-351 governs the maintenance of commitment records and dictates that the commitment record shall reflect any credit "allowed to the defendant by law." Therefore, to achieve a correction or change of the commitment record mandated by Rule 4-351, the appropriate vehicle is a motion to amend the commitment record.

Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County

Case No. 02-K-99-000032

Barbera, C.J., McDonald, Watts, Hotten, Getty, Booth, Biran, JJ.

Opinion by Hotten, J.

This appeal arises from a decision of the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County, granting a motion to correct an illegal sentence filed by Larry Daniel Bratt ("Petitioner"), after his earlier filed Petition for Credit had been granted and his commitment record adjusted to reflect credit for time served. The State appealed to the Court of Special Appeals, which reversed and held that although a Rule 4-3451 motion to correct an illegal sentence was an appropriate mechanism to request an adjustment to the commitment record, the alleged sentence illegality had been remedied by his prior Petition for Credit, which did not require a hearing. We granted certiorari to consider the following questions:

1. Does the failure of a sentencing judge to award a defendant mandatory credit against the sentence for time served in custody prior to trial renderthe sentence illegal and subject to correction under Maryland Rule 4-345(a)?
2. What is the proper remedy to correct the illegality when a sentence does not reflect the proper credit?

Cross-petitioner/Respondent, the State, phrases its questions as follows:

1. Is the claim that a sentencing court failed to comply with Md. Code Ann., Crim. Proc. § 6-218(e) properly raised in a Rule 4-345(a) motion when the court's alleged failure to do so is a procedural flaw, i.e., not the result of a determination by the court that the defendant is not entitled to any or only partial credit for time that the defendant spent in pre-sentencing detention?2
2. Where the defendant alleges that the sentencing court failed to comply with Md. Code Ann., Crim. Proc. § 6-218, and there is no dispute that the defendant is entitled to the credit that he or she requests, must the defendant seek correction of the procedural flaw by filing a Rule 4-3513motion or may the defendant seek the same relief by filing a Rule 4-345(a) motion?

We shall affirm the decision of the Court of Special Appeals, but for different reasons explained infra.


Following a jury trial in August 1983, Petitioner was convicted in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County of two counts of first-degree murder for the 1981 murders of John and Donna Carback.4 At sentencing, two consecutive life terms were imposed. The sentencing judge expressed the following:

Well...the [jury] verdict speaks for itself and I'm not going to make any comment upon it. As to count one, the sentence and judgment of the [c]ourt is that you receive the maximum sentence provided by law which is life. As to count two, the sentence is the same, the maximum provided by law, life. Each of the sentences to be concurrent, I'm sorry, consecutive, one to the other.

Petitioner appealed the conviction to the Court of Special Appeals, which affirmed. Bratt v. State, 62 Md. App. 535, 490 A.2d 728, cert. denied, 304 Md. 95, 497 A.2d 818 (1985). Neither the trial judge nor defense counsel referenced any credit for time served against Petitioner's consecutive life terms, and Petitioner's commitment record reflected the same. Because the commitment record issued did not indicate a start date, the consecutive life terms began on the date of sentencing, August 8, 1983.

In 1992—nine years after Petitioner was sentenced—Petitioner sent a communication to the trial judge requesting credit for time served pre-trial, which included ten months in the Anne Arundel County Detention Center and three months in DeKalb County, Georgia.5 Petitioner also requested that the court modify his two life sentences from consecutive to concurrent terms of imprisonment. Both requests were denied. Approximately three years later on July 26, 1995, the Commitment Record Specialist from the Maryland Division of Corrections ("DOC"), Ava Gift, sent a letter to the court, which reflected that Petitioner had been in pre-trial custody at the Anne Arundel County Detention Center from October 26, 1982 until August 8, 1983. In the letter, Ms. Gift informed the court that Petitioner was entitled to 48 days of "good conduct" credits. These "good conduct" credits were not the equivalent of pre-trial credit for time served. She also inquired whether Petitioner's sentence should commence on the date of his detention inAnne Arundel County or the date of sentencing. There was no mention of the time Petitioner asserted he had served in Georgia prior to his detention in Anne Arundel County, nor was this time credited.

On August 15, 1995, the court issued an amendment to the commitment record. The amendment reflected that Petitioner had earned "48 days credit," but did not specify when the sentence was to commence. Ms. Gift sent a follow-up correspondence to the trial judge on August 24, 1995, inquiring whether the "sentence imposed on August 8, 1983 should effectively begin on October 26, 1982[.]" In response, the trial court issued a September 8, 1995 order, noting that Petitioner was entitled to credit for time served, commencing from the date of incarceration at the Anne Arundel County Detention Center. As such, Petitioner was granted just 48 days of credit for good conduct and credit for time served in Anne Arundel County prior to the date of conviction.

More than twenty years later, Petitioner filed the two motions underlying this appeal. On October 18, 2017, Petitioner filed a Petition for Pre-Trial Incarceration Credit and Correction of Commitment Record ("Petition for Credit") arguing that he was entitled to 102 total days of credit for the pre-trial time served in Georgia preceding his transfer to the Anne Arundel County Detention Center, and that the credit awarded to date only reflected time served pre-trial after his transfer to Maryland.6 Petitioner alleged that hissentence should have commenced on July 16, 1982, the date of his detention in Georgia, instead of October 26, 1982. In the Petition for Credit, Petitioner requested a hearing pursuant to Rule 4-345(f), which requires that, in the context of an illegal sentence, a "modif[ication], reduc[tion], correct[ion], or vacat[ion] of a sentence" be conducted "only on the record in open court, after hearing from the defendant, the State, and from each victim or victim's representative who requests an opportunity to be heard." Md. Rule 4-345(f).

The State did not challenge the relief sought in the Petition for Credit, but argued that Petitioner was not entitled to a hearing on the Petition. On November 3, 2017, Petitioner's Petition for Credit was granted without a hearing. The court ordered the clerk to amend the commitment record to reflect that Petitioner's sentence began on July 16, 1982. Accordingly, the clerk issued a new commitment record on November 6, 2017. Petitioner's counsel then filed a Motion for Modification of Sentence ("Motion for Modification"), which the trial judge dismissed after determining the motion was "prematurely filed."

On January 30, 2018, Petitioner filed a motion to correct an illegal sentence ("Motion to Correct"). In his motion, he again argued that the original sentencing judge failed to apply the appropriate credits for time served, and "pursuant to Maryland Rule 4-345(f) an illegal sentence can be corrected '. . . only on the record in open court.'" His primary concern was the failure of the court to hold a hearing on the matter in November 2017. Petitioner alleged that the November 2017 amendment to his commitment record "was of no legal force or effect" in the absence of a hearing. According to Petitioner,because the amendment was "of no legal force or effect[,]" his original sentence without the appropriate credit for time served was still in effect and that sentence constituted an illegal sentence, needing correction. Petitioner also filed a Motion for Modification to be held sub curia, in the event the court disagreed that a hearing was required and denied the Motion to Correct.

The trial court granted the request for a hearing and scheduled the matter for February 28, 2018. During the hearing, the State argued that the commitment record could be corrected under Maryland Rule 4-351, and that the failure to award credit did not constitute an illegal sentence under Maryland Rule 4-345. The State expressed concern that a judicial determination that the failure to award credit constitutes an illegal sentence would create "a cottage industry of searching for credit on all cases to bring people back for motions for modification." Thereafter, the court amended the commitment record from the bench so that the imposed sentence began on July 16, 1982, but continued the case to May 3 and June 5, 2018 to allow both parties to prepare for further argument on the motion.

On July 3,...

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