Williams v. State, 95

CourtCourt of Appeals of Maryland
Citation771 A.2d 1082,364 Md. 160
Docket NumberNo. 95,95
PartiesJames Delario WILLIAMS v. STATE of Maryland.
Decision Date10 May 2001

771 A.2d 1082
364 Md. 160

James Delario WILLIAMS
STATE of Maryland

No. 95, Sept. Term, 2000.

Court of Appeals of Maryland.

May 10, 2001.

771 A.2d 1084
Arthur A. Delano, Jr., Asst. Public Defender (Stephen E. Harris, Public defender, on brief), Baltimore, for petitioner

Diane E. Keller, Asst. Atty. Gen. (J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Atty. Gen. of MD, on brief), Baltimore, for respondent.


771 A.2d 1083

We issued a writ of certiorari in this case to decide whether the State violated Maryland Rule 4-263(a)(2)(C) by inaccurately representing in discovery that a police officer witness, who was the nonarresting surveilling officer, could not specifically identify the defendant, when at trial the officer positively identified the defendant. We conclude that the police officer's surveillance observation, if used by the State for purposes of identification, is a pre-trial identification requiring disclosure under Maryland Rule 4-263(a)(2)(C). By failing to accurately portray the police officer's pre-trial identification of the defendant, the State violated this rule and such violation unduly prejudiced the defense.

I. Background

On July 6-7, 1999, James Delario Williams was tried in a bench trial in the Circuit Court for Kent County for the distribution of cocaine.1 The charges stemmed from a November 18, 1998 execution of a search and seizure warrant by the Kent County Narcotics Task Force at an apartment in Rock Hall. Thomas Brown (the lessee), Kenneth Cunningham (a houseguest), and Ronald Dorsey (a visitor) were in the apartment at the time the warrant was executed and various amounts of rock and powder cocaine were seized.2 All three men were arrested and charged with distribution of cocaine.

771 A.2d 1085
The State subsequently charged the appellant, James Delario Williams, with distribution, alleging that Williams entered the surveilled premises approximately thirty minutes prior to the raid to deliver powder cocaine to Cunningham. The State's case relied heavily on the testimony of Brown, who testified as a result of a plea agreement with the State. Brown claimed that Williams entered the apartment prior to the raid, threw a package wrapped in foil, which Brown presumed to be cocaine, on the kitchen counter, and stated, "take whatever off the top." Brown further testified that Cunningham took the package to his bedroom,3 and when he returned to the kitchen, handed Brown some powder cocaine to cook to transform the powder into rock cocaine

Trooper Wilson, one of the surveilling officers on the Narcotics Task Force, was the only other State's witness to place Williams at the apartment on the night of the raid.4 The defense counsel, on several occasions, had asked the State's Attorney for confirmation (and reconfirmation) that Trooper Wilson was not able to say, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the man who entered the apartment was Williams. On March 5, 1999, defense counsel requested (although not required to make such requests under the mandatory disclosure provisions of the rule), pursuant to Rule 4-263(a)(2)(C), any relevant material or information regarding pretrial identifications of the Defendant by a witness for the State. In response, the State filed its automatic discovery, which stated that "the Defendant has not, at this time, been identified by a pre-trial identification procedure."

On May 5, 1999, defense counsel filed a Motion to Suppress for unlawful extrajudicial identifications5 and in a cover letter requested further confirmation that there were no extrajudicial identifications of Williams: "please confirm in writing that there were no such identifications, and I will withdraw that portion of the motion." Immediately prior to the scheduled motion hearing, the State verbally professed that the police officer's testimony was not an identification under Rule 4-263 because the officer was only testifying to the general description of a man who entered the surveilled premises.

As a result of this assertion by the State, the defense counsel, at the motion hearing, requested that the court first rule on whether the testimony of the officer was an identification requiring disclosure under Rule 4-263. Defense counsel agreed that a general description of the man who entered the apartment would not amount to an identification under the rule. Defense counsel further argued, however, that should Trooper Wilson's testimony

771 A.2d 1086
move beyond a general description to a statement that Williams met those descriptions or that the trooper recognized the man to be Williams, then the identification information would be subject to judicial scrutiny.

The State proffered to the court that the police officers, surveilling the apartment from across the street, saw an individual drive up to the apartment building in a vehicle similar to the description of the defendant's. Trooper Wilson also observed "the stature, the size, the height and definitely that it was an African American individual ..." The State affirmed to the court that "it wasn't even a situation where the officer can say that he saw the face of the person who went in there."

The court then specifically asked the State, "Does that basically mean that no one saw ... the officer can not say beyond a reasonable doubt that this person is the defendant?" To which the State responded, "That is correct. All he [Trooper Wilson] can say is the size, height, stature."6 Based on these proffers by the State—that all the officer could identify is size, height, and stature—the court found that there was no pre-trial identification and that the State had complied with discovery. With a finding that no pre-trial identification existed, defense counsel's motion to suppress the extrajudicial identification was rendered moot.

In an unrelated pre-trial motion hearing, the State again repeated that "Wilson can identify defendant only to the extent of size, height, and weight," and recognized that this was "a major concession in [the] case."

Despite at least three proffers by the State's Attorney prior to trial that Trooper Wilson was only able to describe the size, height, and race of the man who entered the surveilled apartment and was not able to specifically identify Williams, when Trooper Wilson took the stand, he distinctly stated, "it was Mr. Williams who is seated at the defense table." Defense counsel objected to this identification testimony by Trooper Wilson and throughout the ensuing colloquy repeated her objections and requested remedial measures be taken by the court, including moving to strike the identification testimony on two occasions,7 renewing a motion to dismiss, and requesting that an evidentiary hearing be conducted. The trial judge denied these motions.8 After Williams was found guilty, defense counsel moved for a new trial arguing, among other things, that the State violated Rule 4-263 by failing to disclose the identification testimony of Trooper Wilson. Again, the trial judge denied the motion with the following comment:

The ... out of court identification of ... Trooper Wilson was a surprise to the State's Attorney and you feel that ... under Rule 4-263 he should have informed
771 A.2d 1087
you. And I agree with you on that. But, if it was a surprise to him, he couldn't inform you of something he didn't know about. It was a surprise to you and to him. And I don't think that he deliberately withheld it back. I asked him point blank again was it a surprise, and he indicated it was. So I don't think that all of this taken together warrants a new trial.

The trial court sentenced Williams to twenty years incarceration, suspending all but ten years to serve without the possibility of parole, and five years supervised probation. In an unreported opinion by the Court of Special Appeals, the judgment of conviction was affirmed.

This Court granted certiorari to determine whether the State violated Rule 4-263(a)(2)(C) by inaccurately representing9 to defense counsel during discovery that a police officer witness could not specifically identify the defendant, when at trial, the officer made a positive identification of the defendant.

II. Standard of Review

Where the trial judge made no specific finding as a matter of law that the State violated the discovery rule, we exercise independent de novo review to determine whether a discovery violation occurred. See Ferris v. State, 355 Md. 356, 368-369, 735 A.2d 491, 497 (1999) (maintaining that questions of law are reviewed de novo); see also, Hutchins v. State, 339 Md. 466, 475, 663 A.2d 1281, 1286 (1995). If the trial judge erred because the State did in fact violate the discovery rule, we consider the prejudice to the defendant in evaluating whether such error was harmless. See Johnson v. State, 360 Md. 250, 269, 757 A.2d 796, 806 (2000).

III. Maryland Rule 4-263

Maryland Rule 4-263 grants the defendant broad discovery rights to information held by the State.10 Part (a) of Rule 4-263 outlines the mandatory disclosure requirements in discovery:

Without the necessity of a request, the State's Attorney shall furnish to the defendant:

(1) Any material or information tending to negate or mitigate the guilt or punishment of the defendant as to the offense charged;

(2) Any relevant material or information regarding: (A) specific searches and seizures, wire taps or eavesdropping, (B) the acquisition of statements made by the defendant to a State agent that the State intends to use at a hearing or trial,

771 A.2d 1088
and (C) pretrial identification of the defendant by a witness for the State.

Maryland Rule 4-263(a) (emphasis added). Part (b) requires disclosure by the State upon request from the defendant,11 but in neither case is the defendant required to show that the request was reasonable or the item sought was material to the preparation his defense.12

The State's...

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