Jones v. State

Decision Date01 September 1996
Docket NumberNo. 585,585
Citation691 A.2d 229,114 Md.App. 471
PartiesRobert Donnell JONES v. STATE of Maryland. ,
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

William H. Murphy, Jr., Baltimore, for Appellant.

Mary Ann Ince, Assistant Attorney General (J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Attorney General, and Patricia Jessamy, States Attorney for Baltimore City, on the brief), Baltimore, for Appellee.

Argued before FISCHER * and HOLLANDER, JJ., and JAMES S. GETTY, Judge (retired), Specially Assigned.

JAMES S. GETTY, Judge (retired), Specially Assigned.

This coram nobis case presents issues relating to whether a circuit court judge may authorize a belated appeal from the denial of a petition for a writ of error coram nobis, and whether the chancellor erred in denying the petition for coram nobis relief.

The underlying facts and statutory background are as follows: In 1975, before Judge Basil A. Thomas in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, Robert Donnell Jones, appellant herein, entered a plea of guilty to the crime of assault with intent to murder. On July 31, 1975, he was sentenced to five years imprisonment.

On October 15, 1992, appellant filed a petition for writ of error coram nobis, seeking to have the 1975 conviction vacated. The basis for the petition was appellant's allegation that his guilty plea in 1975 was involuntary because he was under the influence of heroin at the time he entered his plea. 1

Appellant's petition for writ of error coram nobis to set aside the 1975 conviction was filed on October 15, 1992, and denied by the circuit court without a hearing on October 19 1992. 2 Thereafter, appellant filed a second coram nobis petition on October 21, 1993, which was heard by the court and denied by Judge Joseph P. McCurdy in a written opinion dated March 3, 1994.

Although appellant alleges that he instructed his counsel to appeal Judge McCurdy's order of March 3, 1994, no notice of appeal was recorded by the court clerk. The State, however, received a copy of a notice of appeal. Nearly two years later, Judge McCurdy, on January 16, 1996, granted a belated appeal, citing the failure of appellant's counsel to file the appeal, or the failure of the clerk of court to record the appeal. The receipt of a copy of the appeal by the State was cited by the court as evidence that appellant was deprived of his right of appeal through no fault of his own.

We shall address first whether a circuit court judge may authorize a belated appeal from the denial of a petition for writ of error coram nobis.

Before launching a discussion of the granting of a belated appeal, a brief reference to the nature of the writ is meaningful in that coram nobis has limited use as a present day postconviction remedy. There are no statutes or rules of court governing its use. The demise of coram nobis is primarily attributable to the adoption of the Post Conviction Procedure Act in 1958, ch. 44 of the Acts of 1958, Md.Code Art. 27, § 645A, et seq.

The purpose of the Post Conviction Procedure Act was to create a simple statutory procedure in place of the common law habeas corpus and coram nobis remedies for collateral attacks upon criminal convictions and sentences. Coram nobis may be pursued only where no other statutory proceeding is available. Thus, the vast majority of collateral attacks upon convictions are filed under the Post Conviction Procedure Act whereby, in a first petition, a convicted defendant is entitled to a hearing on the merits, the assignment of counsel, and a right of appeal.

Coram nobis is defined in Bernard v. State, 193 Md. 1, 3-4, 65 A.2d 297 (1949), as follows:

The purpose of the writ of error coram nobis, which is an old common-law writ recognized in this State, is to bring before the court a judgment previously rendered by it for the purpose of modification on account of some error of fact which affected the validity and regularity of the proceedings, and which was not brought into issue at the trial of the case.... The writ will lie to set aside a judgment ... where a plea of guilty was procured by force, violence, or intimidation, or where at the time of the trial the defendant was insane, when such facts were not known to the trial court when the judgment was entered,....

The function of a coram nobis writ is different from that of an ordinary writ of error in two respects. First, it deals only with facts which, if known at the time the judgment was rendered, would have precluded its rendition; whereas, an ordinary writ of error deals with questions of law. Second, coram nobis is addressed to the court which rendered the judgment, while a writ of error is addressed to a superior court. See Keane v. State, 164 Md. 685, 691, 166 A. 410 (1933).

Appellant contends that Judge McCurdy had the power to grant a belated appeal in this case because the relevant part of the Post Conviction Statute, art. 27, § 645A(e), does not bar the use of the writ as is alleged by the State. The statute provides, in part:

No appeals to the Court of Appeals or the Court of Special Appeals in habeas corpus or coram nobis cases, or from other common-law statutory remedies which have heretofore been available for challenging the validity of incarceration under sentence of death or imprisonment shall be permitted or entertained, except appeals in such cases pending in the Court of Appeals on June 1, 1958, shall be processed in due course.

According to appellant, the Post Conviction Procedure Act, by its express terms, does not provide a remedy for persons who have been convicted of crimes and whose sentences have expired, and who are no longer on parole or on probation. Since appellant is no longer in any of those categories, he contends that he is challenging his underlying conviction, not his sentence. For that purpose, he argues, the writ of coram nobis is alive and well.

The State, conversely, urges that the purpose of the legislature in enacting Art. 27, § 645A(e), was to consolidate into one statutory procedure all of the remedies previously available for collaterally attacking the validity of a criminal conviction or sentence. The statute, the State asserts, unequivocably says that no appeals are permitted in coram nobis cases.

Appellant relies on language in Fairbanks v. State, 331 Md. 482, 629 A.2d 63 (1993), as being supportive of his right to proceed under coram nobis. That opinion, authored by Judge McAuliffe, involved sentencing under a recidivist statute. The defendant contended that his enhanced sentence was predicated upon an offense not shown to be free of constitutional infirmity, because there was no showing that he intelligently waived his right to a jury trial, although he was represented by counsel at that time. The Court held that there is no constitutional right to mount a collateral attack against a facially valid predicate conviction at the sentencing hearing where it is offered. Convictions obtained while an accused is represented by counsel, furthermore, are presumptively valid and the burden is on the accused to prove otherwise. Id. at 490, 629 A.2d 63.

In footnote 3, the Court noted that a defendant may or may not be able to bring a collateral attack. Citing McMannis v. State, 311 Md. 534, 539-47, 536 A.2d 652 (1988), the Court pointed out that post conviction and habeas corpus remedies are available only when a defendant is incarcerated, or subject to conditions of parole or probation. The Court added: "The writ of error coram nobis, addressed to the court that entered judgment, may be available to the defendant who is no longer in custody. Moreover, a defendant able to mount a collateral challenge may be barred by waiver, ... or might be barred by laches,...." 331 Md. at 492 n. 3, 629 A.2d 63 (citations omitted).

In Gluckstern v. Sutton, 319 Md. 634, 662, 574 A.2d 898, cert. denied, 498 U.S. 950, 111 S.Ct. 369, 112 L.Ed.2d 331 (1990), a habeas corpus case involving whether an appeal is available to a petitioner, the Court (Eldridge, J.) described the Post Conviction Procedure Act as follows:

[T]he Act was designed to create a statutory remedy for collateral challenges to criminal judgments on Art. 31B examination and defective delinquency proceedings, and to substitute this remedy for habeas corpus and coram nobis actions challenging criminal judgments and Art. 31B proceedings.

The General Assembly in 1965 added new language to the portion of the Post Conviction Procedure Act relating to appeals in habeas corpus cases. Art. 27, § 645A(e), as amended by Ch. 442 of the Acts of 1965 now reads:

No appeals to the Court of Appeals or the Court of Special Appeals in habeas corpus or coram nobis cases, or from other common-law or statutory...

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  • Skok v. State
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • December 7, 1998
    ...the appeal as untimely. Unlike Ruby, in the case at hand, the appeal from the action of the trial court was timely. In Jones v. State, 114 Md.App. 471, 691 A.2d 229,cert. denied, 346 Md. 27, 694 A.2d 950, cert. denied, ___U.S. ___, 118 S.Ct. 304, 139 L.Ed.2d 234 (1997), the defendant, Jones......
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    ...State, 164 Md. 685, 689-93, 166 A. 410, 411-13 (1933); Hawks v. State, 162 Md. 30, 31-32, 157 A. 900, 901 (1932); Jones v. State, 114 Md.App. 471, 475, 691 A.2d 229, 230-31, cert. denied, 346 Md. 27, 694 A.2d 950, and cert. denied, ____ U.S. ____, 118 S.Ct. 304, 139 L.Ed.2d 234 (1997). See ......
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    ...the validity and regularity of the proceedings, and which was not brought into issue at the trial of the case.... Jones v. State, 114 Md.App. 471, 475, 691 A.2d 229, cert. denied, 346 Md. 27, 694 A.2d 950, cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 118 S.Ct. 304, 139 L.Ed.2d 234 (1997) (quoting Bernard, ......
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