Molina v. State, No. 2380, 2537 Sept. Term, 2017

CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland
Writing for the CourtLeahy, J.
Citation222 A.3d 222,244 Md.App. 67
Docket NumberNo. 2380, 2537 Sept. Term, 2017
Decision Date23 December 2019
Parties Ana Beti MOLINA v. STATE of Maryland Javier Molina v. State of Maryland

244 Md.App. 67
222 A.3d 222

Ana Beti MOLINA
v.
STATE of Maryland

Javier Molina
v.
State of Maryland

No. 2380, 2537 Sept. Term, 2017

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland.

December 23, 2019


Argued by: M. Peter Nelson, Baltimore, MD, Michael T. Torres (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: Kehoe, Leahy, Sally D. Adkins (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.

Leahy, J.

244 Md.App. 81

TABLE OF CONTENTS

BACKGROUND

The Indictments ...232

Pre-Trial Motions ...232

222 A.3d 230

Trial ...233

A. The Molinas...233

B. Gustave Shapiro...233

C. Ana Assumes the Care of Gustave...233

D. Dementia and Other Diagnoses...237

E. A Second APS Investigation in 2015...238

F. The House on Wilton Oaks...240

G. The Third APS Investigation in 2016...243

H. End-Stage...246

I. Additional Financial Evidence...247

J. Motions for Judgment of Acquittal...250

K. The Defense...251

L. Renewed Motions for Judgment...251

Verdict and Sentencing ...253

DISCUSSION

I. Evidence of Gambling and the Molinas' Financial Status...254

A. Motions in Limine...254
244 Md.App. 82
B. Parties' Contentions on Appeal...255

C. Gambling and Finances: Special Circumstances...256

II. Motion to Sever...261

A. Pre-Trial Ruling...262

B. Analysis...263

III. Lay Opinion Evidence...265

A. Motion in Limine...265

B. Testimony on Duty of Fiduciary...266

C. Testimony on Gustave's Capacity...266

IV. Accomplice Liability...267

V. Sufficiency of the Evidence Against Ana...270

VI. Sufficiency of the Evidence Against Javier...276

A. Financial Exploitation...276

B. Theft Scheme...277

C. Conspiracy...280

VII. The State's Rebuttal Closing Argument...282

Gustave Shapiro, a widowed nonagenarian, depended on others for his transportation and daily care—he was a vulnerable adult.1 In 2016, Montgomery County Adult Protective

244 Md.App. 83

Services ("APS") removed Gustave from the house in which he was residing with Ana Beti Molina and her husband, Javier Molina (the "Molinas" or "Appellants"). He died from severe dementia just one week later, at the age of 99.

A grand jury in Montgomery County indicted the Molinas on several charges

222 A.3d 231

relating to their financial gains from Gustave, including theft scheme, financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult, and financial exploitation of a person over 68 years old. The couple stood trial, as co-defendants, before a jury in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County.

At trial, the evidence revealed that Ana was hired in 2012 to clean Gustave's house after his wife passed away. Within months, Gustave became estranged from his only living son, Dana Shapiro, and Ana gained control of Gustave's medical care and finances. Over defense objections, the State introduced evidence that the Molinas declared income between $26,000 and $68,000 from 2012 to 2016, along with evidence that the Molinas, primarily Javier, suffered gambling losses of more than $200,000 from 2011 to 2016. Also, between 2012 and 2016, $450,000 was withdrawn from Gustave's bank accounts to purchase a new vehicle for the Molinas and a new house in which the Molinas lived with Gustave. Neither the house nor the car had accommodations for Gustave, who was wheelchair-bound. More than $60,000 was withdrawn to pay college tuition for the Molinas' daughter, and another $60,000 was withdrawn from ATMs near two casinos where Javier gambled. The jury found each of the Molinas guilty of theft scheme, two counts of financial exploitation, and conspiracy to commit these crimes. Separately, the jury found Ana guilty of two counts of misappropriation by a fiduciary.

Ana and Javier appealed and each presented four issues for our review, which we have consolidated, reordered, and rephrased as follows:

244 Md.App. 84
I. Did the circuit court err or abuse its discretion by permitting evidence of the Molinas' financial circumstances and Javier's gambling?

II. Did the circuit court err by denying Ana's motion to sever her trial from Javier's?

III. Did the circuit court err by allowing opinion evidence by one of Gustave's attorneys?

IV. Did the circuit court err in instructing the jury on accomplice liability?

V. Was the evidence sufficient to convict Ana of financial exploitation?

VI. Was the evidence sufficient to convict Javier of financial exploitation, theft scheme, and conspiracy?

VII. Did the circuit court err by permitting impermissible rebuttal argument by the prosecution?

The statute featured in this case, Maryland Code, Criminal Law Article ("CR"), § 8-801 was enacted by the General Assembly in 2002 to prohibit the financial exploitation of vulnerable adults, and then amended in 2009 to include a prohibition against the financial exploitation of individuals who are at least 68 years old. See SB 646 (2002); HB 559 (2002); SB 304 (2009); HB 583 (2009). As Delegate Kramer, the sponsor of House Bill 583, wrote in 2009, "The financial exploitation of the elderly is a significant problem and perhaps the fastest-growing crime in the nation."2 Our appellate courts have had few opportunities to consider CR § 8-801 ; indeed, the sole reported opinion discussing the statute, Tarray v. State , 410 Md. 594, 979 A.2d 729 (2009), pre-dates the 2009 amendment

244 Md.App. 85

and

222 A.3d 232

examines only the prohibition against the financial exploitation of vulnerable adults.

The case before us is the kind that the General Assembly intended to address when it enacted the financial exploitation statutory scheme.3 As is common for many vulnerable adults, Gustave's cognitive impairment, caused by his worsening dementia and advanced age, prevented him from appreciating the financial abuse at the time. Although the evidence of the Molinas' intent to commit financial exploitation was largely circumstantial, we hold that it was more than sufficient to support the jury's verdicts. Finding no error or abuse of discretion in the trial court's rulings, we affirm the jury's verdicts, but remand Javier's case to the circuit court to vacate one of his two conspiracy convictions.

BACKGROUND

The Indictments

On February 2, 2017, a grand jury sitting in Montgomery County returned indictments against Ana and Javier, respectively. As relevant to this appeal,4 the first six counts in each indictment were for crimes against Gustave: (1) theft scheme over the value of $100,000 in violation of Maryland Code (2002,

244 Md.App. 86

2012 Repl. Vol., 2017 Supp.), CR § 7-104; (2) conspiracy to commit theft scheme over the value of $100,000; (3) financial exploitation, value over $100,000, of an adult over 68 in violation of CR § 8-801(b)(2) ; (4) conspiracy to exploit a vulnerable adult: value over $100,000; (5) financial exploitation, value over $100,000, of a vulnerable adult in violation of CR § 8-801(b)(1) ; and (6) conspiracy to exploit a vulnerable adult: value over $100,000.5 Ana was also charged with two counts of misappropriation by a fiduciary.

Pre-Trial Motions

Four pre-trial motions are relevant to this appeal. They are treated fully in the discussion but outlined here for context. First, on April 28, 2017, the court granted a motion by the State, over the defendants' objections, to consolidate the cases against Ana and Javier.6 The court revisited this

222 A.3d 233

issue later in response to Ana's motion to sever the cases and reaffirmed its earlier ruling.

The Molinas, through two motions in limine, moved to exclude evidence of their gambling and financial status. They urged the court to bar the evidence because it was irrelevant and unduly prejudicial. The State responded that the gambling records were relevant both to show motive and to show where the money went—a fundamental element of the theft charges. The circuit court denied the Molinas' motions to suppress the

244 Md.App. 87

gambling evidence, granted Javier a continuing objection on the issue, and ultimately allowed the State to introduce evidence of the Molinas' financial circumstances.

In a fourth pre-trial motion, the State sought to prohibit Elizabeth Goldberg, an attorney, from offering opinion testimony at trial as to Gustave's capacity to execute legal documents. The court denied the State's motion.

Trial

The Molinas' trial...

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35 practice notes
  • Hayes v. State, No. 500, 556, Sept. Term, 2019
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • August 25, 2020
    ...overt act in furtherance of the agreement because the conspiracy is complete when the unlawful agreement is reached. Molina v. State , 244 Md. App. 67, 167–68, 222 A.3d 222 (2019) (cleaned up). The defendant "must have a specific intent to commit the offense which is the object of the consp......
  • Montague v. State, No. 2033, Sept. Term, 2017
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • December 23, 2019
    ...of a condition of fact, the court shall admit it upon, or subject to, the introduction of evidence sufficient to support a finding by 222 A.3d 222 the trier of fact that the condition has been fulfilled."). Defense counsel did not make such a proffer, which foreclosed this avenue of impeach......
  • Montague v. State, No. 75, Sept. Term, 2019
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • December 23, 2020
    ..." ‘must not simply outweigh ‘probative value’ but must, as expressly directed by Rule 5-403, do so ‘substantially .’ " Molina v. State , 244 Md. App. 67, 135, 222 A.3d 222 (2019) (quoting Newman v. State , 236 Md. App. 533, 555, 182 A.3d 281 (2018) ) (emphasis added). In Hannah , we exclude......
  • White v. State, No. 2292
    • United States
    • Maryland Court of Special Appeals
    • March 27, 2020
    ...id. at 363-365, it appears that the Court of Appeals has not wavered from the "susceptible" test quoted above. See also Molina v. State, 244 Md. App. 67, 175-76 (2019) (applying the principles articulated in Smith). But, in Judge Battaglia's view, the more commonly applied test "for ascerta......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
37 cases
  • Hayes v. State, No. 500, 556, Sept. Term, 2019
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • August 25, 2020
    ...overt act in furtherance of the agreement because the conspiracy is complete when the unlawful agreement is reached. Molina v. State , 244 Md. App. 67, 167–68, 222 A.3d 222 (2019) (cleaned up). The defendant "must have a specific intent to commit the offense which is the object of the consp......
  • Montague v. State, No. 2033, Sept. Term, 2017
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • December 23, 2019
    ...of a condition of fact, the court shall admit it upon, or subject to, the introduction of evidence sufficient to support a finding by 222 A.3d 222 the trier of fact that the condition has been fulfilled."). Defense counsel did not make such a proffer, which foreclosed this avenue of impeach......
  • Sykes v. State, 2132, Sept. Term, 2019
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • November 18, 2021
    ...471 Md. 657, 696, 243 A.3d 546 (2020) (emphasis in 264 A.3d 236 original) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Molina v. State , 244 Md. App. 67, 135, 222 A.3d 222 (2019) ). "Under 253 Md.App. 101 some circumstances, where intent is legitimately an issue in the case, and where by rea......
  • Montague v. State, No. 75, Sept. Term, 2019
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • December 23, 2020
    ..." ‘must not simply outweigh ‘probative value’ but must, as expressly directed by Rule 5-403, do so ‘substantially .’ " Molina v. State , 244 Md. App. 67, 135, 222 A.3d 222 (2019) (quoting Newman v. State , 236 Md. App. 533, 555, 182 A.3d 281 (2018) ) (emphasis added). In Hannah , we exclude......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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