Gatewood v. State, 107

Citation880 A.2d 322,388 Md. 526
Decision Date15 August 2005
Docket NumberNo. 107,107
PartiesTroy Arness GATEWOOD v. STATE of Maryland.
CourtCourt of Appeals of Maryland

Bradford C. Peabody, Asst. Public Defender (Nancy S. Forster, Public Defender, on brief), for petitioner.

Edward J. Kelley, Asst. Atty. Gen. (J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Atty. Gen., on brief), for respondent.



The Circuit Court for Cecil County conducted a jury trial in 2003 for Troy Arness Gatewood who stood charged with three counts of possession and three counts of distribution of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS). After voir dire was completed, Gatewood moved to disqualify the prosecutor, the State's Attorney for Cecil County, Christopher Eastridge, Esquire,1 because Eastridge, while employed as a public defender previously, represented Gatewood in a different case. During an ensuing bench conference, Eastridge claimed to have no specific recollection of Gatewood or the earlier case. The trial judge denied the motion.

After empaneling the jury and entertaining opening arguments, the court observed a lunch recess. Upon court reconvening, Gatewood's current counsel, a public defender, proffered that electronic records at the public defender's office he checked during the luncheon recess confirmed that Eastridge represented Gatewood on two cases in 1998—a burglary charge (resulting in a nolle prosequi) and a conspiracy to possess CDS (resolved by a guilty plea). During an ensuing bench conference, the trial judge denied Gatewood's renewed motion to disqualify Eastridge, observing that he did "not see any unfair prejudice" to Gatewood. Gatewood ultimately was convicted by the jury on three counts of distribution of a CDS, under then-Article 27, § 286(a) of the Maryland Code.2

Gatewood appealed to the Court of Special Appeals raising several issues. Of relevance to the present case, the Court of Special Appeals, in affirming most of the Circuit Court's judgments, held that the trial judge's refusal to grant Gatewood's motion to disqualify the State's Attorney was not error. Gatewood v. State, 158 Md.App. 458, 857 A.2d 590 (2004).3 We granted Gatewood's petition and issued a writ of certiorari, Gatewood v. State, 384 Md. 448, 863 A.2d 997 (2004), to consider whether the Circuit Court erred in denying the motion to disqualify the State's Attorney. Answering in the negative, we shall affirm. Where the potential conflict of interest with a former client in a criminal case arises out of a substantially unrelated charge (although similar to the current ones for which the former client was being tried), and the trial court makes an appropriate inquiry into potential prejudice to the defendant in the current prosecution from the risk of disclosure of any confidential information that may have been imparted during the previous representation, but finds none, the court is not compelled to disqualify the prosecutor.


A grand jury indicted Gatewood on three counts each of possession and distribution of a CDS (cocaine).4 After voir dire of the jury, the following exchange occurred at the bench:

[PUBLIC DEFENDER]: Your Honor, Mr. Gatewood has brought to my attention the fact that he believes the state's attorney has represented him before, and believes that this is a conflict with respect to his prosecution of him. At this point in time I can't say that I disagree entirely with that. Mr. Eastridge was a member of our office for a number of years. I don't personally know the cases he may have been involved in, but I think that, you know, that certainly does raise the specter of impropriety and perhaps a conflict to have Mr. Eastridge prosecuting him, and perhaps even trying to impeach him with prior convictions that he may have been involved with in one way or another.
[THE COURT]: Well, do you remember representing—
[MR. EASTRIDGE]: Your Honor, I have no specific recollection of a particular case with Mr. Gatewood. I remember Mr. Gatewood from the P.D. Office. In saying that, I am saying that I remember him as a client, I cannot recall particularly whether he was a client or a person whom I represented in any particular case.
[COURT]: Do you have any knowledge that would in any way be useful to—in this case?
[EASTRIDGE]: No, I do not.
[COURT]: Even if you did have such knowledge is there any way you could get it into this case?
[EASTRIDGE]: Your Honor, none that I know of. I have apprised the court and [the Public Defender] as well with regard all the impeachment convictions upon which the state would be relying. They are of record in—they are of record; they came to me through a presentence report that I found in another file in the State's Attorney's Office.
[COURT]: Not from the public defender?
[EASTRIDGE]: That's correct your honor.
[PUBLIC DEFENDER]: Memory is a tricky thing, judge, and I think that the more one is confronted with a situation with which you were familiar at one time, things may come to Mr. Eastridge about which he is not conscious of at this point in time, and there is a good possibility that Mr. Gatewood may take the stand, and in the process of Mr. Eastridge's cross-examination, things may come to him that don't appear now, he's not even aware of now.
I think that's the problem that we have. I don't think [it is] solved by Mr. Eastridge saying I am even limiting my impeachments to those decisions, nor solved by him—I have no reason to doubt the assertion that no information that he's aware of now has come to you other than through the State's Attorney's Office. I think his involvement with the office and involvement with Mr. Gatewood, I think it makes it improper for him to prosecute Mr. Gatewood; namely, I understand the office has an obligation. That's not an issue. But I think Mr. Eastridges's—I apologize for bringing this up at this point in time. I was not aware of it until Mr. Gatewood just told me during voir dire that Mr. Eastridge was the person who represented him, that he's again—I apologize to the court for not being aware of this earlier.
[COURT]: I understand the defendant's concern. There is no way that I can think of, even if he had any knowledge, that he could get it in, that he would use it. His questions have to be relevant to this case and this case only. The only impeachment information he has is those three, which are a matter of record, theft, robbery that anybody can learn, which are a matter of record. It doesn't make any difference who the prosecutor was ....
* * * * * *
That there is no way that can in any way hurt Mr. Gatewood.

The Circuit Court then empaneled the jury and permitted opening arguments before a lunch recess.

After the court reconvened, Gatewood's defense counsel again moved to disqualify State's Attorney Eastridge:

[PUBLIC DEFENDER]: Your Honor, I have one more preliminary matter actually in conjunction with the prior motion I had made about the state's attorney's prior representation of Mr. Gatewood. I went back through our electronic records in our office, and just with respect to proffering for the record, it appears that Mr. Eastridge did represent this defendant on at least two cases, both of which apparently ended or closed in `98. One was a — looked like it started out a burglary charge . . .
* * * * * *
which appeared to me to end up in a nol pros pursuant to our records.
And the other one was a ... drug distribution case, which ended up as a plea... to a conspiracy to possess. We closed it in March of `98. It appears sentencing took place March 16th of 1998.
Again, just to reiterate my argument, I think that those are fairly significant charges, which I believe, regardless of the state's attorney's ability to [recollect] independently right now, would have clearly involved some significant contact with the defendant, in preparation of those matters and also in the resolution of the one drug case.
Again, I would ask that the state's attorney be disqualified from prosecuting personally in the matter of Mr. Gatewood.
Eastridge responded:
[EASTRIDGE]: I have no recollection of either case. Frankly [the public defender] had shared that information with me briefly before he offered it to the court. Let me say too, I've been with the P.D. [Public Defender's] Office from 1986 through 1998, a period of about twelve years, represented hundreds if not thousands of individuals. I really have no recollection of hardly any one. In fact there may be one that will stick out. It's certainly not Mr. Gatewood.
In my current role obviously I can't disqualify myself in each and every case where a defendant comes before the court, by happenstance my having represented them on some occasion many years back. I think that's the case here. I have no recollection of it.
As we discussed earlier, should Mr. Gatewood elect to testify, obviously it's his choice, whether he wishes to testify or not. If he does testify, I'd like to cross-examine him. Any cross-examination will be limited to the facts of the case; and any impeachment information that's not secret to Mr. Gatewood or his counsel. We've just discussed that already, as well as in chambers at an earlier proceeding in this case.
[THE COURT]: I do not see any unfair prejudice or any prejudice at all to the defendant, Mr. Gatewood. I've listened carefully to the question. There is some discussion suggesting there may be something there. [Public Defender], raise it again at that time, and we'll see.

Mr. Gatewood testified on his own behalf. The following brief cross-examination concerning impeachment occurred:

[EASTRIDGE]: And, Mr. Gatewood, you recall having been convicted on two occasions in 1989 on two separate occasions for theft, is that correct?
[GATEWOOD]: Yes, sir.

In his cross-examination of Gatewood, Eastridge did not refer to either case in which he allegedly represented Gatewood in 1998 while a public defender. Gatewood's...

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