Hill v. State

Decision Date26 August 2020
Docket NumberNo. 1503, Sept. Term, 2019,1503, Sept. Term, 2019
Citation247 Md.App. 377,236 A.3d 751
Parties Edward Effion HILL v. STATE of Maryland
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

Argued by: Jeffrey M. Ross (Paul B. DeWolfe, Public Defender, on the brief), Baltimore, MD, for Appellant

Argued by: Cathleen C. Brockmeyer (Brian E. Frosh, Atty. Gen., on the brief), Baltimore, MD, for Appellee

Panel: Beachley, Gould, Patrick L. Woodward, Senior Judge, Specially Assigned, JJ.*

Beachley, J.

In 2011, appellant Edward Effion Hill was convicted of first-degree assault and related firearm crimes. At the time of Hill's conviction, he had an essentially unrestricted right to file petitions requesting commitment to the Department of Health for substance abuse treatment pursuant to section 8-507 of the Health General Article as it existed prior to October 1, 2018. Effective October 1, 2018, however, the General Assembly amended that statute to preclude a court from ordering a commitment for substance abuse treatment for a defendant convicted of a crime of violence "until the defendant is eligible for parole." Md. Code (2019 Repl. Vol.), § 8-507 of the Health General Article ("HG"). Because Hill was convicted of first-degree assault—a crime of violence—he contends that the legislature's amendments violate the Ex Post Facto Clause found in Article I of the United States Constitution and Article 17 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights.

In response to Hill's appeal, the State filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that Court of Appeals precedent requires dismissal of the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. As we shall explain, we conclude that we have jurisdiction to review the denial of Hill's petition. We further conclude that the 2018 amendments to HG § 8-507, as applied to Hill, violate the Ex Post Facto Clause of the United States Constitution.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

In 2011, Hill was convicted of first-degree assault, use of a handgun in the commission of a crime of violence, and possession of a firearm by a person convicted of a crime of violence. He was sentenced to twenty-five years for the assault charge; twenty years, concurrent, for use of a handgun; and fifteen years, concurrent, for possession of a firearm.

On December 15, 2017, Hill filed a motion pursuant to HG § 8-507 requesting commitment to the Department of Health in order to receive drug treatment. At a hearing on March 13, 2018, the Circuit Court for Prince George's County denied the petition, stating:

[A]s I indicated, I fully intend to grant this motion at some point. ... I'm just not ready to do it today and let me tell you why. ... [T]here were a couple of other prior criminal events and particularly in the armed robbery which is also a crime of violence. Normally, for a crime of violence, the parole considerations is [sic] fifty percent (50%). You haven't even served a third and that is sort of the minimum that I think would be appropriate. ... I know this is disappointing and discouraging, but the reason you're here is so you can hear me say that if you continue on the path that you're currently on, you do everything you should do, you continue to progress, I will grant this motion in about a year.

On March 4, 2019, Hill again petitioned for HG § 8-507 commitment. After a hearing on May 10, 2019, the court granted the petition, pending availability of a bed. The court stated its reasoning for granting the petition as follows:

You ... are an example of someone who did everything you could to get better. You got your GED. You have been engaged in a lot of programs. You have a letter from your supervisor at the plant. You have done what we hope as a society prison will do for everybody, and that is make some change in your focus and your approach and, as you said, in your decision-making. So I recognize it's a very serious crime, and I recognize the position of the victim's family.
I am going to sign the Health General Commitment for you.

On May 23, 2019, the Department of Health sent a letter to the court indicating that, as a result of amendments to HG § 8-507, Hill would not be eligible for the treatment program "until parole eligibility after May 10, 2024." At the time of Hill's conviction, Hill was eligible for commitment pursuant to HG § 8-507(a), which then provided:

Subject to the limitations in this section, a court that finds in a criminal case or during a term of probation that a defendant has an alcohol or drug dependency may commit the defendant as a condition of release, after conviction, or at any other time the defendant voluntarily agrees to participate in treatment, to the Department for treatment that the Department recommends, even if:
(1) The defendant did not timely file a motion for reconsideration under Maryland Rule 4-345 ; or
(2) The defendant timely filed a motion for reconsideration under Maryland Rule 4-345 which was denied by the court.

On October 1, 2018, however, the General Assembly amended HG § 8-507, disallowing commitment for prisoners convicted of crimes of violence until they become eligible for parole. The statute now reads:

(a) (1) Except as provided in paragraph (2) of this subsection and subject to the limitations in this section, a court that finds in a criminal case or during a term of probation that a defendant has an alcohol or drug dependency may commit the defendant as a condition of release, after conviction, or at any other time the defendant voluntarily agrees to participate in treatment, to the Department for treatment that the Department recommends, even if:
(i) The defendant did not timely file a motion for reconsideration under Maryland Rule 4-345 ; or
(ii) The defendant timely filed a motion for reconsideration under Maryland Rule 4-345 which was denied by the court.
(2)(i) If a defendant is serving a sentence for a crime of violence, as defined in § 14-101 of the Criminal Law Article, a court may not order the Department to treat a defendant under this section until the defendant is eligible for parole.
(ii) Nothing in this paragraph may be construed to prohibit a defendant who is serving a sentence for a crime of violence, as defined in § 14-101 of the Criminal Law Article, from participating in any other treatment program or receiving treatment under the supervision of the Department under any other provision of law.

(Emphasis added).

In response to the Health Department's May 23, 2019 letter, Hill filed a motion asking the court to "issue an order back[-]dating the [c]ourt's decision to the March 13, 2018 hearing date to permit the defendant to be placed into treatment in the Maryland Department of Health."

At the August 16, 2019 hearing on Hill's motion, Hill argued that application of the amended HG § 8-507 violated the ex post facto prohibition in Article I of the United States Constitution and Article 17 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights. The circuit court found no ex post facto violation, and consequently determined that it could no longer grant Hill's petition, stating,

I do feel bad about what I said in that I cannot go forward with that. But I feel very strongly that I would be violating the law if I tried to find a way around what our Legislature has said. And of all people, I should not be doing that. ... So I'm sorry .... I just don't see any way I can now commit him to the Department of Health.

Hill then noted this appeal. We shall provide additional facts as necessary.

MOTION TO DISMISS

The State preliminarily moves to dismiss Hill's appeal. In its motion, the State argues that this Court lacks jurisdiction to consider the appeal pursuant to Fuller v. State , 397 Md. 372, 918 A.2d 453 (2007). While we recognize the similarities between Fuller and the instant case, we nevertheless conclude that, although the circuit court's denial of Fuller's HG § 8-507 petition did not constitute a final judgment, the denial of Hill's petition does . Accordingly, this Court has jurisdiction to consider Hill's appeal.

In Fuller , the Court of Appeals was tasked with "determining whether an order denying an inmate commitment to a drug treatment program pursuant to [ HG § 8-507 ] is appealable." Id . at 375, 918 A.2d 453. In 1979, Fuller received a life sentence for first-degree murder. Id . at 377, 918 A.2d 453. Later that same year, Fuller pleaded guilty to first-degree rape and robbery with a deadly weapon, and consequently received a concurrent life sentence for those crimes. Id . at 377–78, 918 A.2d 453.

In 2005, Fuller, representing himself, filed a petition for commitment to a drug treatment program pursuant to HG § 8-507. Id . at 378, 918 A.2d 453. The circuit court summarily denied Fuller's petition, and Fuller noted an appeal to this Court. Id . As part of his appellate argument that the circuit court erred in denying his petition, Fuller also claimed that this Court "had jurisdiction to entertain the appeal under either the final judgment rule or the collateral order doctrine." Id . This Court disagreed and dismissed the appeal, holding that Fuller's petition was not appealable due to lack of jurisdiction. Id . at 379, 918 A.2d 453 (citing Fuller v. State , 169 Md. App. 303, 308-09, 900 A.2d 311 (2006) ). The Court of Appeals granted Fuller's petition for writ of certiorari, but ultimately affirmed this Court's dismissal, holding that "the denial of a petition for commitment for substance abuse treatment pursuant to [ HG § 8-507 ] is not an appealable order." Id . at 380, 918 A.2d 453.

The Court of Appeals began its discussion by outlining Fuller's argument. Id . First, Fuller claimed that the denial of his petition constituted a final judgment pursuant to Md. Code (1973, 2002 Repl. Vol.), § 12-301 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article ("CJP") and was therefore appealable.1 Id . Alternatively, Fuller argued that even if the denial of his petition did not constitute a final judgment, his petition was nevertheless appealable pursuant to the collateral order doctrine. Id . Additionally, Fuller analogized his petition for...

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