McCullough v. State

Decision Date30 August 2017
Docket NumberNo. 1081, Sept. Term, 2016.,1081, Sept. Term, 2016.
Citation233 Md.App. 702,168 A.3d 1045
Parties Matthew Timothy MCCULLOUGH v. STATE of Maryland
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

Argued by: Brian Saccenti (James Johnston, Paul B. DeWolfe, Public Defender, on the brief), Baltimore, MD, for Appellant.

Argued by: Robert Taylor (Brian E. Frosh, Atty. Gen., on the brief), Baltimore, MD, for Appellee.

Panel: Deborah S. Eyler, Berger, J. Frederick Sharer (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.*

Deborah S. Eyler, J.

This case presents the question whether four consecutive 25–year sentences imposed against a juvenile for nonhomicide crimes constitute cruel and unusual punishment, categorically. More specifically, it causes us to consider whether the United States Supreme Court's holding in Graham v. Florida , 560 U.S. 48, 130 S.Ct. 2011, 176 L.Ed.2d 825 (2010), that it is a categorical violation of the Eighth Amendment for a juvenile nonhomicide offender to be sentenced to life without parole ("LWOP"), extends to these multiple-victim, multiple-crime term-of-years sentences. We hold that Graham does not extend to the sentences in this case and they are not otherwise cruel and unusual.


On Tuesday, May 4, 2004, Matthew Timothy McCullough, the appellant, and Martise Williams, both students at Randallstown High School, in Baltimore County, got into an argument when Williams called the appellant a "bitch." Over the next several days, the controversy escalated. Efforts by school officials to "calm the waters" by meeting with the students and their parents proved fruitless. School officials told appellant not to be on school grounds on Friday, May 7, 2004. He came to the school that day anyway and during the course of a school basketball game let it be known that he and three companions were looking for a fight. School officials ordered them off the grounds.

Later that afternoon, when the basketball game was letting out, the appellant returned with his three companions. The appellant was 17½ years old, but his companions were older and were not students. The four walked together "towards the school where a group of kids were hanging out on the sidewalk." Mc Cullough v. State , No. 2812, Sept. Term. 2004, slip op. at 2 (filed Nov. 28, 2005). According to a teacher who witnessed what happened next, the four approached a group of students, "[a] few words were exchanged, a punch was thrown, and there was a fight." A crowd of 30 or 40 students formed. When it became clear that the four were not going to prevail, one of them, Tyrone "Fat Boy" Brown, retrieved a handgun from his car. "Fat Boy" and the appellant shared the handgun, using it to fire a total of 12 shots into the crowd. Four students were seriously wounded ; one of them was shot in the back of the neck and is paralyzed from the chest down.

On November 23, 2004, a jury in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County convicted the appellant of four counts of first degree assault, one for each victim. Sentencing took place on January 27, 2005. Exercising his right to allocution, the appellant made the following statement:

Your Honor, I would like to say what happened on May 7th was a tragedy. I'd like to apologize for what happened that day and I'd like to apologize for putting the victims and their families through the pain and suffering. And I know that a punishment is acceptable, and I'm here to accept the punishment. Thank you.

When asked by his lawyer whether he thought that, "[a]t some point in [his] life," he could "rejoin [the] community and be a productive part of society[,]" the appellant responded, "Yes."

The court sentenced the appellant to the maximum 25 years for each conviction, to be served consecutively, for an aggregate sentence of 100 years. In doing so, the judge characterized the crimes as "vicious and heinous," described the "horror" endured by the families of the students and the fear the crimes created in the community, and recounted the seriousness of the victims' injuries. He characterized the appellant as a "suburban terrorist" and a "coward" and observed that until sentencing he had shown no remorse and had bragged about "beat[ing] the attempted murder wrap [sic]" and the use of a handgun charge.

Eleven years later, on March 25, 2016, the appellant filed a motion to correct illegal sentence, arguing that his aggregate sentence of 100 years violated the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment in the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution and in Article 25 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights. The circuit court denied the motion without a hearing, by order entered on June 27, 2016.

The appellant noted a timely appeal, asking:

Does a juvenile nonhomicide offender's prison sentence of 100 years violate the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution and/or Article 25 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights?

For the reasons set forth below, we shall affirm the order of the circuit court.


The Eighth Amendment to the federal constitution, applicable to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment, see Robinson v. California , 370 U.S. 660, 82 S.Ct. 1417, 8 L.Ed.2d 758 (1962), provides that "[e]xcessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."1 Early Supreme Court jurisprudence interpreting the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause prohibited barbaric punishments, such as torture or methods of execution causing undue suffering. See, e.g., Wilkerson v. Utah , 99 U.S. 130, 135–36, 25 L.Ed. 345 (1878) (noting in dicta that the punishment of torture is prohibited); In re Kemmler , 136 U.S. 436, 447, 10 S.Ct. 930, 34 L.Ed. 519 (1890) ("Punishments are cruel when they involve torture or a lingering death ....").

In Weems v. United States, 217 U.S. 349, 367, 30 S.Ct. 544, 54 L.Ed. 793 (1910), the Supreme Court recognized in the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause the "precept ... that punishment for crime should be graduated and proportioned to [the] offense." See also Coker v. Georgia , 433 U.S. 584, 592, 97 S.Ct. 2861, 53 L.Ed.2d 982 (1977) (Eighth Amendment "bars not only those punishments that are ‘barbaric’ but also those that are ‘excessive’ in relation to the crime committed."). The sentence at issue in Weems was "cadena temporal ," a punishment permitted by the law of the Philippines for the crime of making a false entry in a public record. Cadena temporal consists of "imprisonment for at least 12 years and one day, in chains, at hard and painful labor; the loss of many basic civil rights; and subjection to lifetime surveillance." Gregg v. Georgia , 428 U.S. 153, 171, 96 S.Ct. 2909, 49 L.Ed.2d 859 (1976). The Court held that that punishment violated the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause not because it was barbaric, but because it was excessive and disproportionate to the crime for which it was imposed.

After Weems , two types of proportionality analyses emerged. In one type, the Court imposed "categorical restrictions on the death penalty." Graham , 560 U.S. at 59, 130 S.Ct. 2011. In some of those cases, the Court categorically prohibited the death penalty because it was unconstitutionally excessive in relation to the severity of a particular offense. See Kennedy v. Louisiana , 554 U.S. 407, 128 S.Ct. 2641, 171 L.Ed.2d 525 (2008) (rape of a child); Coker , 433 U.S. at 584, 97 S.Ct. 2861 (rape of an adult); Enmund v. Florida , 458 U.S. 782, 102 S.Ct. 3368, 73 L.Ed.2d 1140 (1982) (non-triggerman felony murderer). In others, the Court categorically prohibited the death penalty because it was unconstitutionally excessive in relation to the diminished culpability of a particular class of offenders. See Atkins v. Virginia , 536 U.S. 304, 306, 122 S.Ct. 2242, 153 L.Ed.2d 335 (2002) ("mentally retarded" offenders); Roper v. Simmons , 543 U.S. 551, 125 S.Ct. 1183, 161 L.Ed.2d 1 (2005) (juvenile offenders). In determining whether to impose a categorical proportionality restriction, the Court has looked to state legislative enactments and practices to assess whether a national consensus has emerged for or against a particular punishment vis-à -vis a class of offenders, see, e.g., Atkins , 536 U.S. at 313–15, 122 S.Ct. 2242 ; and whether the penological goals of retribution and deterrence are served by imposing the punishment. See, e.g., Roper , 543 U.S. at 571, 125 S.Ct. 1183.

In the other type of proportionality analysis, the Supreme Court reviews "the length of term-of-years sentences given all the circumstances in a particular case .... to determine whether the sentence is unconstitutionally excessive." Graham , 560 U.S. at 59, 130 S.Ct. 2011. Three " ‘objective criteria’ " are relevant to this analysis: "the gravity of the offense as compared to the harshness of the penalty; the sentences imposed on others in the same jurisdiction; and the sentences imposed for the same offense in other jurisdictions." United States v. Young , 766 F.3d 621, 626 (6th Cir. 2014) (quoting Solem v. Helm, 463 U.S. 277, 288, 292, 103 S.Ct. 3001, 77 L.Ed.2d 637 (1983) ). Ordinarily, a court will reach the latter two criteria only if its consideration of the first factor gives rise to "an initial inference of gross disproportionality." Id. In these proportionality review cases, the Supreme Court almost always has upheld the sentences. See Rummel v. Estelle , 445 U.S. 263, 273, 100 S.Ct. 1133, 63 L.Ed.2d 382 (1980) ("Outside the context of capital punishment, successful challenges to the proportionality of particular sentences have been exceedingly rare.") For example, in Harmelin v. Michigan , 501 U.S. 957, 111 S.Ct. 2680, 115 L.Ed.2d 836 (1991), a plurality of the Court upheld a mandatory LWOP sentence for the crime of possession of 672 grams of cocaine, stating that the Eighth Amendment's "proportionality principle" is "narrow" and "does not require strict proportionality between crime and sentence." Id. at 997, 1001, 111 S.Ct. 2680. "[I]t forbids only extreme sentences that are ‘grossly...

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