Jolley v. State

Decision Date07 April 1978
Docket NumberNo. 118,118
Citation282 Md. 353,384 A.2d 91
PartiesTyrone Anthony JOLLEY v. STATE of Maryland.
CourtMaryland Court of Appeals

George E. Burns, Jr., Asst. Public Defender, Baltimore (Alan H. Murrell, Public Defender, Baltimore, on the brief), for appellant.

Alexander L. Cummings, Asst. Atty. Gen., Baltimore (Francis B. Burch, Atty. Gen. and Clarence W. Sharp, Asst. Atty. Gen., Baltimore, on the brief), for appellee.


ORTH, Judge.

We review this case upon our grant of a writ of certiorari before decision by the Court of Special Appeals. The appeal to the intermediate appellate court was by Tyrone Anthony Jolley from an order of the Circuit Court for Dorchester County issued upon a finding that Jolley was incompetent to stand trial in a criminal cause.


The threshold question is whether an immediate appeal lies from the order. The State did not file a motion to dismiss but argued in its brief that the appeal was not allowed by law. Maryland Rule 835 a 1. We find that the appeal was properly taken and shall not dismiss it.

It is the position of the State that "an order which judicially determines the mental incompetency of an accused to stand trial in a criminal case is not an appealable order." The basic reason for the State's position is that the order was not a final one.

Appellate jurisdiction in both civil actions and criminal causes is dependent upon a statutory grant of power. Lohss and Sprenkle v. State,272 Md. 113, 116, 321 A.2d 534 (1974). With exceptions not here relevant, Maryland Code (1974) § 12-301 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article permits a party to appeal from a final judgment entered in a criminal case by a circuit court. "Final judgment" is defined by § 12-101(f) of the Article to mean "a judgment, decree, sentence, order, determination, decision, or other actions by a court . . . from which an appeal, application for leave to appeal, or petition for certiorari may be taken." "This section, however, does not attempt to specify what is an appealable final judgment or order, and leaves that determination to the case law." Warren v. State, 281 Md. 179, 183, 377 A.2d 1169, 1171 (1977). Our cases have held that "to be final a judgment must actually settle the rights of the parties . . . or it must finally settle some disputed right or interest of the parties . . . ." Id. at 183, 377 A.2d at 1172. We observed as early as 1835: "It is time enough for a party to apply to this Court for redress, when it is ascertained that he is to be injured by the judgment of which he complains." Boteler & Belt v. The State, 7 G. & J. 109, 113 (1835). We declared: "(N)o appeal can be prosecuted (to this Court), 'until a decision has been had in the Court below, which is so far final, as to settle, and conclude the rights of the party involved in the action, or denying to the party the means of further prosecuting or defending the suit.' " Id. at 113. We expressed our accord with this view as recently as last year. Warren, 281 Md. at 183, 377 A.2d 1169 at 1172; United States Fire Ins. v. Schwartz 280 Md. 518, 521, 374 A.2d 896 (1977). The purpose of this general rule is, of course, to prohibit piecemeal disposition of litigation. Warren, 281 Md. at 183, 377 A.2d 1169. It enables the combining in one review all stages of the proceeding that effectively may be reviewed and corrected if and when final judgment results. A well recognized corollary to the general rule, however, permits an appeal from a seemingly interlocutory order which denies an absolute constitutional right, Neal v. State, 272 Md. 323, 325, 322 A.2d 887 (1974). A qualification of the corollary is that an appeal will not lie from an apparently interlocutory order, even though it denies a constitutional right, if the order is based upon the rightful exercise of a trial court's discretion. Pearlman v. State, 226 Md. 67, 71, 172 A.2d 395 (1961). See Neal, 272 Md. at 325, 322 A.2d 887.

An accused has an absolute constitutional right to a speedy trial both under the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, Klopfer v. North Carolina, 386 U.S. 213, 222-226, 87 S.Ct. 988, 18 L.Ed.2d 1 (1967), and under Article 21 of the Declaration of Rights of the Constitution of Maryland. Jones v. State, 279 Md. 1, 6, 367 A.2d 1 (1976), cert. denied, 431 U.S. 915, 97 S.Ct. 2177, 53 L.Ed.2d 225 (1977); Smith v. State, 276 Md. 521, 526-527, 350 A.2d 628 (1976). Whether or not the refusal of a trial court to dismiss a criminal cause because of an alleged denial of the right to a speedy trial is immediately appealable, 1 it is manifest that under the rationale of Neal, supra, and our other decisions, an appeal will lie from a denial to an accused of the opportunity to assert this absolute constitutional right. The determination by a trial court that an accused is incompetent to stand trial effectively precludes him from invoking the right to a speedy trial. The matter of incompetency vel non does not come within the qualification of the corollary to the general rule because there is no exercise of judicial discretion in the court's determination whether an accused is incompetent to stand trial. If the evidence is not sufficient for the court to find beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is able "to understand the nature of the object of the proceeding against him or to assist in his defense," Maryland Code (1957, 1972 Repl.Vol.) Art. 59, § 23, the court must find him incompetent to stand trial. Raithel v. State, 280 Md. 291, 297, 372 A.2d 1069 (1977). A decision that an accused is incompetent to stand trial appears to fall in that small class which finally determines claims of right separable from, and collateral to, rights, asserted in the action, too important to be denied review and too independent of the cause itself to require that appellate consideration be deferred until the whole case is adjudicated. See Cohen v. Beneficial Loan Corp., 337 U.S. 541, 546, 69 S.Ct. 1221, 93 L.Ed. 1528 (1949). 2 Like the order in Cohen, the order here is a final deposition of a claimed right which is not an ingredient of the cause of action and does not require consideration with it; it does not make any step toward final disposition of the merits of the case and will not be merged in final judgment. What the Court said in Cohen is applicable here: "When that time comes, it will be too late effectively to review the present order, and the rights conferred by the (constitutions) . . . will have been lost, probably irreparably. We conclude that the matters embraced in the decision appealed from are not of such an interlocutory nature as to affect, or to be affected by, decision of the merits of this case." Id. at 546, 69 S.Ct. at 1225. We hold that the challenged order is appealable. 3

The State suggests that the statutory scheme embodied in the Mental Hygiene Law, Maryland Code (1957, 1972 Repl.Vol.) Art. 59, §§ 1 et seq., whereby the propriety of the involuntary confinement of a person in a facility by reason of a mental disorder so as to require in-patient medical care and treatment for the protection of himself and others, § 12, may be reviewed by way of habeas corpus, § 14, or by petition filed in an appropriate equity court, with right of appeal from decisions on such petitions as in other equity cases, § 15, supplants any right of immediate appeal from an order declaring an accused incompetent to stand trial in a criminal cause. The short answer is that the involuntary admission of a person under § 15 is an entirely different proceeding than commitment in a criminal cause by the trial court upon a determination of incompetency to stand trial pursuant to § 23. The mere fact that the limitation as to frequency of reconsideration of competency to stand trial is the same as that with regard to a petition for release of a person confined under a § 15 procedure, does not preclude the right to the immediate appeal which we have found is enjoyed by an accused found incompetent to stand trial. 4


This is not merely another case in which the central issue is the competency of the accused to stand trial. It has an unusual twist. Ordinarily the accused is aggrieved because the trial court determined that he was competent to stand trial which then proceeded to conviction. The accused here is aggrieved because the trial court found him to be incompetent and refused to allow the trial to proceed. Jolley insisted that he was able "to understand the nature of the object of the proceeding against him and to assist in his defense." Maryland Code (1957, 1972 Repl.Vol.) Art. 59, § 23. See Raithel v. State, 280 Md. 291, 297-300, 372 A.2d 1069 (1977). He claims that the court erred in determining otherwise.

It all started with Jolley's arrest on 2 September 1976 on charges of assault, battery, assault with intent to murder and grand larceny, alleged to have occurred the day before. Upon petition by Jolley's attorney, the District Court for Dorchester County on 2 September 1976 ordered that Jolley be committed to Clifton T. Perkins State Hospital (Perkins) to determine whether he was competent to stand trial. On 5 October Perkins reported to the court that "(i)t was the opinion of the medical staff that further psychological testing and further observation of Mr. Jolley's behavior was necessary in order to answer the question of his competency to stand trial." Estimating that "an accurate report of his competency can be rendered to the Court within the next thirty days," Perkins suggested that "if a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity is to be entered in Mr. Jolley's defense, that it be entered promptly so that we could evaluate his mental state at the time of the alleged offenses during this present hospitalization in order to avoid the necessity of Mr. Jolley's being hospitalized for this evaluation...

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