Huff v. State

Decision Date01 September 1991
Docket NumberNo. 16,16
Citation599 A.2d 428,325 Md. 55
PartiesClinton R. HUFF v. STATE of Maryland
CourtMaryland Court of Appeals

George E. Burns, Jr., Asst. Public Defender (Stephen E. Harris, Public Defender, both on brief), Baltimore, for petitioner.

Valerie J. Smith, Asst. Atty. Gen. (J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Atty. Gen., both on brief) Baltimore, for respondent.



The principal issue presented by this motor vehicle manslaughter case concerns immediate appeals from orders denying dismissals sought on double jeopardy grounds. The question is whether immediate appeals of those orders lie from the District Court of Maryland to a circuit court. As explained below, we shall answer in the negative.

Petitioner, Clinton R. Huff (Huff), on February 26, 1990, was operating a motor vehicle on Maryland Route 312 near Ridgely in Caroline County. Huff's vehicle was involved in a collision with another vehicle. One of his passengers, an adult in the rear seat, died in the collision. Huff was hospitalized. No criminal charges were issued immediately following the accident.

On April 11, 1990, the Maryland State Police trooper who investigated the accident presented a single application for a statement of charges to a commissioner of the District Court of Maryland. The police officer averred under oath that a consensual blood alcohol test administered to Huff revealed a level of 0.20%. The trooper requested that the commissioner charge Huff with the following offenses:

Homicide by motor vehicle while intoxicated in violation of Md.Code (1957, 1987 Repl.Vol., 1991 Cum.Supp.), Art. 27, § 388A;

Driving while intoxicated (DWI) in violation of Md.Code (1977, 1987 Repl.Vol.), § 21-902(a) of the Transportation Article (TA);

Driving a motor vehicle on a revoked license in violation of TA § 16-303;

Negligently driving a motor vehicle in violation of TA § 21-901.1(b);

Stopping, parking, or leaving a vehicle standing on the traveled portion of a highway outside of a business or residential district, in violation of TA § 21-1001(a);

Huff's failure to be restrained by a seat belt in violation of TA § 22-412.3(b); and

Transporting a child three to five years old without a child safety seat in violation of TA § 22-412.2(e).

In response the commissioner issued two charging documents and two warrants that same day, one set charging Art. 27 offenses, and the other charging offenses under the Transportation Article. The charging document under Art. 27 charged manslaughter by automobile in violation of § 388, in addition to homicide by motor vehicle while intoxicated under § 388A. 1 The statement of charges alleging negligent driving in violation of TA § 21-901.1(b) advised that the preset fine for that offense was $45. The next day, April 12, Huff was arrested and, a few days later, released on bail. Trial was set for August 27, 1990, in the District Court.

At no time did Huff exercise, or attempt to exercise, his right to a jury trial. See Md.Code (1974, 1989 Repl.Vol.), § 4-302(e)(1) and (2)(i) of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article (CJ). 2 On August 14, 1990, this Court decided Gianiny v. State, 320 Md. 337, 577 A.2d 795. There we held that Gianiny's payment of the preset fine for negligent driving operated as a conviction, and that, for double jeopardy purposes, it was "immaterial that that conviction did not result from a trial or from acceptance of a guilty plea[.]" Id. at 346, 577 A.2d at 799.

Two days after Gianiny was decided and eleven days before trial in the District Court of the charges against him, Huff paid the preset fine on the negligent driving charge.

The parties appeared in the District Court on the date set for trial. 3 At some point during the District Court hearing the State nol prossed the charges of stopping, parking, or leaving a vehicle standing on the highway outside of a business or residential district, failure to use a seat belt, and failure to use a child's car seat. Huff moved to dismiss the manslaughter and homicide by motor vehicle while intoxicated charges. He claimed that his conviction of negligent driving, effected by payment of the preset fine, barred conviction for any of the Art. 27 offenses. The District Court denied Huff's motion to dismiss. Huff then apparently announced an intent to pursue an immediate appeal to the Circuit Court for Caroline County. The District Court thereupon discontinued proceedings, and did not try any of the charges on the merits.

The matter came on before Judge J. Frederick Price in circuit court on October 10, 1990. The State agreed with Huff's counsel that the only issue before the court was the effect of the payment of the negligent driving fine on the manslaughter and homicide charges. The court refused to dismiss those charges on double jeopardy grounds. Judge Price then directed that Huff's appeal be set in for trial on the merits, before a jury, as an appeal from the District Court. Huff objected, without success, to that announced procedure.

Subsequently Huff filed a written motion to dismiss or to remand to the District Court, arguing that only the ruling of the District Court on his motion to dismiss on double jeopardy grounds had been appealed to the circuit court. That motion was heard by Judge J. Owen Wise on December 5, 1990, and denied.

Trial on the merits was held before Judge Wise on December 28, 1990. The parties had entered into an agreement pursuant to which the State nol prossed the manslaughter charge, and the parties proceeded without a jury on a not guilty, agreed statement of facts. Judge Wise found Huff guilty of homicide, DWI and driving on a revoked license. Subsequently sentence was imposed.

Huff petitioned this Court for the writ of certiorari which we granted. His petition presents three questions:

"1. Was this case properly before the Circuit Court when Petitioner had neither prayed a jury trial nor had been tried in the District Court?

"2. Was the charge of homicide by motor vehicle while intoxicated barred by the principle of double jeopardy?

"3. Was the evidence insufficient to support a finding of homicide by motor vehicle while intoxicated?"


In his brief in this Court Huff, agreeing with the position taken by his trial counsel, asserts that the appeal to the circuit court was limited to the double jeopardy issue alone. The State, disagreeing with the position of the State's Attorney in the circuit court, argues that the District Court's denial of dismissal on double jeopardy grounds was not immediately appealable, primarily because the collateral order doctrine does not apply to de novo appeals from the District Court to a circuit court. At oral argument in this Court Huff seemingly agrees that the immediate appealability of denials of the double jeopardy protection against a second prosecution for the same offense after conviction rests on the collateral order doctrine, but Huff has not clearly taken any position on whether the collateral order doctrine applies to de novo appeals from the District Court. Neither party advocates the circuit court's position, namely that Huff's notice of appeal brought to the circuit court both the denial of the double jeopardy defense and, if that defense were again denied, then the balance of the cause for trial de novo on the merits.


There is a narrow class of orders from which this Court permits immediate appeals even though the orders are not final judgments. Generally those orders must conclusively determine the disputed question, resolve an important issue, be completely separate from the merits of the action, and be effectively unreviewable on appeal from a final judgment. See Bunting v. State, 312 Md. 472, 476-77, 540 A.2d 805, 807 (1988). The appealability of orders meeting those requirements is the collateral order doctrine. We have referred to the collateral order doctrine as an "exception to the final judgment rule." Parrott v. State, 301 Md. 411, 414, 483 A.2d 68, 69 (1984).

This Court has "recognized that, under the collateral order doctrine, a defendant may take an immediate appeal from the denial of a motion to dismiss on the ground of double jeopardy." Bunting v. State, 312 Md. at 477-78, 540 A.2d at 807. For that proposition Bunting cited primarily to Parrott and secondarily to Russell v. State, 310 Md. 96, 98 n. 1, 527 A.2d 34, 34 n. 1 (1987); Robinson v. State, 307 Md. 738, 741 n. 2, 517 A.2d 94, 96 n. 2 (1986); Huffington v. State, 302 Md. 184, 187 n. 2, 486 A.2d 200 202 n. 2 (1985); Evans v. State, 301 Md. 45, 49 n. 2, 481 A.2d 1135, 1137 n. 2 (1984); Bowling v. State, 298 Md. 396, 401 n. 4, 470 A.2d 797, 799 n. 4 (1984); and In re Mark R., 294 Md. 244, 246 n. 2, 449 A.2d 393, 395 n. 2 (1982). The cases secondarily cited did not articulate the basis for the immediate appealability of orders denying a double jeopardy defense. Their citation in Bunting places appealability on the foundation of the collateral order doctrine.

Bunting 's primary citation to Parrott is not to Parrott 's precise holding, but to the reasoning which was essential to that holding. In Parrott, we denied an immediate appeal from an order granting removal for trial from one circuit court to another of a capital punishment murder case that had been removed pursuant to the absolute right granted under Maryland Constitution, art. IV, § 8. Parrott predicated his interlocutory appeal on a line of Maryland cases, going back at least to Condon v. Gore, 89 Md. 230, 42 A. 900 (1899), which permitted an immediate appeal from any order that settled a constitutional right. Parrott 's reasoning traced how, following recognition by the Supreme Court of the collateral order doctrine in Cohen v. Beneficial Indus. Loan Corp., 337 U.S. 541, 69 S.Ct. 1221, 93 L.Ed. 1528 (1949), two lines of cases developed in this Court explaining immediate appealability of...

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