Brown v. State, Misc. No. 30, Sept. Term, 2018

CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland
Writing for the CourtMcDonald, J.
Citation470 Md. 503,236 A.3d 488
Parties Randy Morquell BROWN, Gianpaolo Bottini, Kitrell B. Wilson v. STATE of Maryland
Decision Date24 August 2020
Docket NumberMisc. No. 30, Sept. Term, 2018

470 Md. 503
236 A.3d 488

Randy Morquell BROWN, Gianpaolo Bottini, Kitrell B. Wilson
v.
STATE of Maryland

Misc. No. 30, Sept. Term, 2018

Court of Appeals of Maryland.

August 24, 2020


Argued by Brian Saccenti, Asst. Public Defender (Marc A. DeSimone, Jr. and Piedad Gomez, Asst. Public Defenders, Paul B. DeWolfe, Public Defender of Maryland, Baltimore, MD), on brief, for Appellants.

Argued by Cathleen C. Brockmeyer and Benjamin A. Harris, Asst. Attys. Gen. (Brian E. Frosh, Atty. Gen. of Maryland, Baltimore, MD), on brief, for Appellees

Barbera, C.J., McDonald, Watts, Hotten, Getty, Booth, Sally D. Adkins, (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.

McDonald, J.

470 Md. 511

The Court of Special Appeals has certified to us, and we have agreed to answer, four questions of law concerning the application of the Justice Reinvestment Act ("JRA").1 Among other things, the JRA eliminated mandatory minimum sentences of imprisonment without the possibility of parole required by existing law for defendants who were convicted of

470 Md. 512

certain drug offenses and who were repeat offenders. The JRA further provided that a defendant who had received a mandatory minimum sentence prior to the elimination of such sentences could ask the court to reduce that sentence and provided some criteria for a court to decide whether to do so – a provision that has been codified in Maryland Code, Criminal Law Article ("CR"), § 5-609.1.

A number of inmates currently serving mandatory minimum sentences have invoked CR § 5-609.1 and filed motions to

236 A.3d 493

modify or reduce their sentences. Questions have arisen, however, as to the application of this provision when the mandatory minimum sentence relates to a conviction based on a court-approved plea agreement under which the prosecution, the defendant, and the court agreed that the mandatory minimum sentence would be imposed and, in particular, when the defendant waived the right to seek modification of that sentence as part of the plea agreement. In addition, procedural questions have arisen as to whether the defendant has a right to a hearing on such a motion and whether a denial of the motion is appealable.

Pursuant to Maryland Rule 8-304, the Court of Special Appeals has certified four questions of law to us concerning CR § 5-609.1 that pertain to pending appeals in that court. We granted a writ of certiorari related to these three cases to respond to those questions.

For the reasons set forth below, we answer the certified questions as follows:

(1) Under CR § 5-609.1, a court may modify a mandatory minimum sentence that was imposed prior to the effective date of the JRA following a guilty plea pursuant to a binding plea agreement, even if the State does not consent to the modification. The decision whether to modify a mandatory minimum sentence is a matter within the sentencing court's discretion, upon consideration of the factors in CR § 5-609.1(b).

(2) Under CR § 5-609.1, a court may modify a mandatory minimum sentence, even if that sentence was imposed prior to the effective date of the JRA following a guilty plea pursuant

470 Md. 513

to binding a plea agreement in which the defendant waived the right to seek modification of the sentence. The decision whether to modify a mandatory minimum sentence is a matter within the sentencing court's discretion, upon consideration of the factors in CR § 5-609.1(b).

(3) In considering the factors set forth in CR § 5-609.1(b) and exercising its discretion to decide whether to modify a mandatory minimum sentence pursuant to that statute, a court should, in most circumstances, conduct a hearing to receive evidence when such evidence will aid the exercise of the court's discretion and to hear argument from the parties concerning the application of the factors in CR § 5-609.1(b). Under Maryland Rule 4-345, the court must hold a hearing before it grants a motion. There is no absolute requirement in the statute or rule to hold a hearing when the court denies a motion.

(4) An appellate court has jurisdiction of an appeal of an order denying a motion under CR § 5-609.1 because that statute shifts the burden of persuasion to the State with the result that a decision on that motion is similar to a re-sentencing that results in a final judgment. The decision on such a motion is committed to the discretion of the circuit court and the standard of review is abuse of discretion, which may include a legal error, such as the circuit court failing to recognize or exercise its discretion.

I

Background

The certified questions concern who is eligible under CR § 5-609.1 to seek reduction of a mandatory minimum sentence, whether one has a right to a hearing on such a motion, and whether one may appeal an adverse decision in the circuit court. To provide context to our answers, we briefly outline the legal landscape under which the defendants in these cases were originally sentenced, describe the relevant provision of the JRA, and summarize the pertinent procedural events in each of these cases.

236 A.3d 494
470 Md. 514

A. Legal Landscape When the Defendants Were Convicted and Sentenced

1. Imposition and Modification of Sentence

As a general rule, a "sentencing judge is vested with virtually boundless discretion" in devising an appropriate sentence.2 Cruz-Quintanilla v. State , 455 Md. 35, 40, 165 A.3d 517 (2017). Such broad latitude allows for consideration of both the facts of the particular offense and of the defendant's "reputation, prior offenses, health, habits, mental and moral propensities, and social background." Id . This "permits the sentencing judge to individualize the sentence to fit the offender and not merely the crime." Id. at 40-41, 165 A.3d 517 (internal quotations omitted). Sentencing in this manner is perceived as the best way to achieve the goals of the criminal justice system – "punishment, deterrence, and rehabilitation." Johnson v. State , 274 Md. 536, 540-42, 336 A.2d 113 (1975).

After imposing a sentence, the judge has discretion to modify that sentence subject to certain conditions. In particular, Maryland Rule 4-345(e) generally allows the court to modify a sentence upon a timely motion by the defendant.3 The defendant must file the motion within 90 days of sentencing. Maryland Rule 4-345(e)(1). Once the motion has been

470 Md. 515

filed, the sentencing judge may act on it immediately or may defer action on the motion for up to five years after the imposition of the original sentence. Id . In acting on the motion, the judge may not increase the sentence. Id . While the court may deny a motion under Rule 4-345(e) without holding a hearing, it may not grant a motion to modify a sentence without first providing notice and an opportunity to be heard to any victims of the offense and holding a hearing on the motion. Maryland Rule 4-345(e)(2)-(3), (f).

2. Plea Agreements that Specify a Sentence and Limit its Modification

Most criminal cases are resolved as a result of a plea agreement between the State and the defendant. Indeed, more than nine out of every 10 criminal convictions results from a guilty plea. Lafler v. Cooper , 566 U.S. 156, 170, 132 S.Ct. 1376, 182 L.Ed.2d 398 (2012) (noting that 97% of federal convictions and 94% of state convictions are the result of guilty pleas). And the vast majority of guilty pleas are the product of a plea agreement between the prosecution and the defendant. See Maryland State Commission on Criminal Sentencing Policy, 2019 Annual Report (2020) at 44 (during fiscal year 2019, 95.1% of criminal convictions were the result of guilty pleas, with plea agreements involved in 83.9% of those convictions).

Under a typical plea agreement, the defendant agrees to plead guilty to one or more charges and the State agrees to dismiss,

236 A.3d 495

or to refrain from bringing, other charges against the defendant. A plea agreement may also contain other terms. For example, the State may agree to limit the recommendation that it makes to the court concerning the sentence to be imposed. The defendant may agree to cooperate with the State in an ongoing investigation or make other concessions – such as forgoing the right to seek modification of the sentence. Although plea bargaining is not specifically authorized by the State or federal constitution or by any statute, its central role in the criminal justice system has been recognized in case law and in the Maryland Rules. See Cuffley v. State , 416 Md. 568, 577, 7 A.3d 557 (2010) ; Maryland Rule 4-243.

470 Md. 516

Generally, a plea agreement is negotiated between the prosecution and the defendant without involvement of the court,4 and is treated as a sort of contract between those parties. Cuffley , 416 Md. at...

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30 practice notes
  • Kumar v. State, 21-2021
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • 20 Diciembre 2021
    ...and interests in the subject matter of the proceeding"-i.e., a "final judgment is one that puts a party out of court[.]" Brown v. State, 470 Md. 503, 549, 236 A.3d 488, 514 (2020) (cleaned up). For example, generally, "there is a final judgment for purposes of appeal in a criminal case when......
  • Kumar v. State, 21 Sept. Term, 2021
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • 20 Diciembre 2021
    ...and interests in the subject matter of the proceeding"—i.e. , a "final judgment is one that puts a party out of court[.]" Brown v. State, 470 Md. 503, 549, 236 A.3d 488, 514 (2020) (cleaned up). For example, generally, "there is a final judgment for purposes of appeal in a criminal case whe......
  • Kumar v. State, 21-2021
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • 20 Diciembre 2021
    ...and interests in the subject matter of the proceeding"-i.e., a "final judgment is one that puts a party out of court[.]" Brown v. State, 470 Md. 503, 549, 236 A.3d 488, 514 (2020) (cleaned up). For example, generally, "there is a final judgment for purposes of appeal in a criminal case when......
  • Revelo-Ramos v. State, 1867-2019
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • 20 Diciembre 2021
    ...to recognize or exercise its discretion 'for whatever reason - is by definition not a proper exercise of discretion.'" Brown v. State, 470 Md. 503, 553 (2020) (quoting State v. Alexander, 467 Md. 600, 620 (2020)). In particular, when "exercising that discretion" concerning matters of courtr......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
30 cases
  • Kumar v. State, 21-2021
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • 20 Diciembre 2021
    ...and interests in the subject matter of the proceeding"-i.e., a "final judgment is one that puts a party out of court[.]" Brown v. State, 470 Md. 503, 549, 236 A.3d 488, 514 (2020) (cleaned up). For example, generally, "there is a final judgment for purposes of appeal in a criminal case when......
  • Kumar v. State, 21 Sept. Term, 2021
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • 20 Diciembre 2021
    ...and interests in the subject matter of the proceeding"—i.e. , a "final judgment is one that puts a party out of court[.]" Brown v. State, 470 Md. 503, 549, 236 A.3d 488, 514 (2020) (cleaned up). For example, generally, "there is a final judgment for purposes of appeal in a criminal case whe......
  • Kumar v. State, 21-2021
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • 20 Diciembre 2021
    ...and interests in the subject matter of the proceeding"-i.e., a "final judgment is one that puts a party out of court[.]" Brown v. State, 470 Md. 503, 549, 236 A.3d 488, 514 (2020) (cleaned up). For example, generally, "there is a final judgment for purposes of appeal in a criminal case when......
  • Revelo-Ramos v. State, 1867-2019
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • 20 Diciembre 2021
    ...to recognize or exercise its discretion 'for whatever reason - is by definition not a proper exercise of discretion.'" Brown v. State, 470 Md. 503, 553 (2020) (quoting State v. Alexander, 467 Md. 600, 620 (2020)). In particular, when "exercising that discretion" concerning matters of courtr......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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