State v. Green, 23

CourtCourt of Appeals of Maryland
Writing for the CourtBELL, Chief.
Citation785 A.2d 1275,367 Md. 61
PartiesSTATE of Maryland, v. James GREEN, Jr.
Docket NumberNo. 23,23
Decision Date07 December 2001

785 A.2d 1275
367 Md. 61

STATE of Maryland,
James GREEN, Jr

No. 23, Sept. Term, 2000.

Court of Appeals of Maryland.

December 7, 2001.

785 A.2d 1276
Sarah Page Pritzlaff, Assistant Attorney General (J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Attorney General of Maryland, on brief), Baltimore, for petitioners

George E. Burns, Jr., Assistant Public Defender (Stephen E. Harris, Public Defender, on brief), Baltimore, for respondent.


BELL, Chief Judge.

In this case, we must determine whether the State may appeal, either pursuant to a common law right of appeal or as a result of Maryland Code (1976, 1998 Repl.Vol.)

785 A.2d 1277
§ 12-302(c) of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article,2 the granting, by the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, of a criminal defendant's untimely filed motion to revise his statutorily mandated sentence. We shall hold that the State does not have a common law right to appeal a criminal sentence, in the process overruling our decision in Cardinell v. State, 335 Md. 381, 644 A.2d 11 (1994), but that its appeal in this case is expressly authorized by § 12-302(c)(2). Accordingly, we shall deny the petitioner's Motion to Dismiss the State's appeal and, on the merits, reverse the judgment of the Circuit Court


The petitioner, James Green, Jr., was charged in a ten-count indictment with multiple offenses, including robbery with a deadly weapon and motor vehicle manslaughter. Having entered guilty pleas in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County to those offenses, he was sentenced, on March 28, 1994, for the robbery with a deadly weapon charge, as a repeat violent offender, pursuant to Maryland Code (1957, 1992 Rep. Vol.) Art. 27 § 643B(c),3 to twenty-five years imprisonment, without the possibility of parole, and to a ten-year concurrent term for the motor

785 A.2d 1278
vehicle manslaughter offense. The commitment record did not reflect those sentences accurately, however. Rather, it stated, incorrectly, that the twenty-five-year sentence without parole was for the motor vehicle manslaughter count and the ten-year concurrent sentence was for the robbery with a deadly weapon offense

In June 1999, the petitioner filed a spate of motions challenging his sentences and seeking their modification. The petitioner filed two motions to correct an illegal sentence. Both were premised on the incorrect commitment record. In the first, he argued that his sentence to a mandatory term of twenty-five years without parole for motor vehicle manslaughter was illegal. In the second, the petitioner alleged that his twenty-five-year sentence without parole was illegal because he had not been convicted of a crime of violence on two separate occasions. The petitioner also moved for drug and alcohol abuse evaluation pursuant to Maryland Code (1982, 1994 Rep. Vol.) § 8-507 of the Health General Article.4 The following month, July

785 A.2d 1279
1999, the petitioner filed a Motion for Reconsideration of Sentence. In that motion, he argued that the twenty-five-year sentence pursuant to § 643B(c) was illegal because that provision "is not a mandatory provision."

The Circuit Court filed a corrected commitment record that accurately reflected the sentence the petitioner actually received. Taking the petitioner's motions to reconsider or revise his sentence under advisement, it also held a hearing on the motions and ordered the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to evaluate the petitioner pursuant to § 8-507 and report to the court.

Subsequently, the court committed the petitioner to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene for admission "when a bed becomes available." Aggrieved, the State noted an appeal to the Court of Special Appeals. It argued that the Circuit Court lacked the authority to modify the petitioner's sentence because the sentence was imposed pursuant to § 643B(c), which is a mandatory provision, and also because the motion for reconsideration was filed untimely under Maryland Rule 4-345(b),5 more than ninety days after the sentence was initially imposed. It requested, therefore, that the intermediate appellate court vacate the Circuit Court's modified order and reinstate the original sentence.

The petitioner moved to dismiss the appeal on two grounds. He argued that the State does not have a common law right of appeal, submitting that any common law right to appeal criminal sentences the State may have had was abrogated and limited by § 12-302 to cases in which the trial judge fails to impose the statutorily mandated sentence. The petitioner maintained that there was no violation of the requirement of imposing the statutorily mandated sentence in his case. He reasoned that his sentence pursuant to § 643B(c) was not mandatory and, alternatively, that, in any event, the Circuit Court technically did not fail to impose the mandated sentence because it initially sentenced him as § 643B(c) directed.

Important to the State's position is this Court's decision in Cardinell, supra. There, we held that the State enjoys a common law right to appeal an allegedly illegal sentence. 335 Md. at 386-88, 644 A.2d at 13-14. In the alternative, the State relies on § 12-302(c)(2), which, as we have seen, permits the State to appeal from a final judgment if the State alleges that the trial judge failed to impose the sentence specifically mandated by the Code, maintaining that it expressly authorizes its appeal.

Prior to any proceedings in the intermediate appellate court, we granted the Petition for Writ of Certiorari filed by the petitioner, to consider the correctness of both the decision in Cardinell and the judgment of the Circuit Court.


As much of the controversy in this case and the reason we granted certiorari can

785 A.2d 1280
be traced to this Court's decision in Cardinell, it is appropriate that we begin with that decision.

Laura Beth Cardinell entered, in the Circuit Court for Garrett County, a plea of guilty to one count of distribution of cocaine and two counts of possession of cocaine, for which the court sentenced her to three years in prison. Cardinell timely filed, pursuant to Maryland Rule 4-345, a motion for revision of her sentence, which the court denied. Nearly seven months after sentencing, Cardinell filed a "supplemental" motion for revision of the sentence. The court granted this motion, suspending the balance of Cardinell's sentence and placing her on supervised probation instead. Apparently unaware of the court's action, the State, two days later, filed an answer opposing Cardinell's motion, which was untimely under Maryland Rule 4-345, and arguing that the court had no jurisdiction to entertain, or to act on, the motion.

The State timely filed an appeal to the Court of Special Appeals. That court held, among other things, that the trial court acted without authority and, therefore, in excess of its jurisdiction, and that the State was entitled to appeal. State v. Cardinell, 90 Md.App. 453, 458, 601 A.2d 1123, 1125-26 (1992). It vacated the Circuit Court order modifying Cardinell's sentence. Id. at 461, 601 A.2d at 1126. We granted Cardinell's Petition for Writ of Certiorari to consider whether the intermediate appellate court erred in holding that the State retained a right to appeal the lower court's order despite the clear language of § 12-302(c)(2). In a 4-3 decision, we answered that the court did not err. Cardinell v. State, 335 Md. at 383, 644 A.2d at 11-12.

As an initial matter, the Cardinell majority noted that "the [trial] court was clearly without authority to modify or reduce the sentence when it did so" because the so-called "supplemental" motion was not submitted within the 90-day period prescribed by Maryland Rule 4-345. Id. at 386, 644 A.2d at 13. The Court next considered the State's authority to appeal the trial court's order. The Court agreed with the conclusion of the Court of Special Appeals that the appeal was permitted pursuant to common law principles.6 Id. at 387-88, 644 A.2d at 14. It rejected, however, the intermediate appellate court's notion that the State's common law right to appeal was codified in § 12-302(c)(2) or that § 12-302(c)(2) represented the sum total of the State's right to appeal a criminal judgment. Id. Instead, the Court concluded that, in enacting § 12-302, the Legislature sought "to codify the State's right

785 A.2d 1281
to appeal in certain circumstances, but not to strip the State of rights already established by common law." Id. at 385, 644 A.2d at 13. In support of this conclusion, the Court reviewed State ex rel. Sonner v. Shearin, 272 Md. 502, 325 A.2d 573 (1974) (holding a trial judge exceeded his authority when he suspended a statutorily mandated sentence), in which the historical development of the right to appeal was traced. From that review, it was satisfied that, "at least up to the time of Sonner, the common law right of the state to appeal from an action of the lower court that was outside the court's jurisdiction remained intact." Id. at 391, 644 A.2d at 20.

The Court next considered whether the recodification of the laws governing appeals had abolished the State's common law right of appeal. Concluding that there was "no indication that the legislature intended to change the meaning of the law..." when it recodified those laws, id. at 394, 644 A.2d at 22, it reasoned that recodification of statutes is presumed to be for the purpose of clarity rather than to change their meaning.7 Accordingly, despite the clear language of § 12-302, the Court held that the State's appeal was authorized under common law principles.

As noted, the Cardinell Court was sharply divided. In dissent, Judge Eldridge, writing for himself and two other judges, challenged the majority's conclusion that the State's common law right of appeal was well established, unequivocally stating, "[T]oday, there is no common law right to...

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