On August 25, 2020 the Court of appeals issued an important ruling regarding the modification of mandatory sentences for drug offenders who had entered into a guilty plea. The Court unanimously ruled that the trial court does in fact have the authority to modify mandatory sentences given to certain drug offenders who entered into a guilty plea. The Court went further and said these sentences may be modified even over the objection of the State. The further concluded that these mandatory drug offense sentences may be modified by the trial court even in instances in which the defendant failed to file a timely motion to modify sentence. This important decision will allow thousands of inmates the right to file a request to have their mandatory drug offense sentences be modified. The attorneys at Silverman Thompson Slutkin and White have combined criminal experience of well over 100 years and include both a State Court of Appeals Judge and a former Federal Judge. Our aggressive and experienced attorneys stand ready to file motions to modify mandatory sentences in any jurisdiction in the State.
Here is a synopsis of this important case:
In State v. Brown, Bottini, Wilson v. State- decided August 24, 2020 The Court of Appeals addressed four questions of law concerning the application of the Justice Reinvestment Act which eliminated mandatory minimum sentences without the possibility of parole required by existing law for defendants who were convicted of certain drug offences and who were repeat offenders. Further, the Act provided that a defendant could ask the trial court to reduce that sentence and provided the court with criteria which is now codified in Criminal Law Annotated Section 5-609.1.
The questions were arising regarding the application of this provision in cases where defendants invoked the act and filed motions for modifications in cases where there were court agreed upon plea agreements. Did that prevent the defendant from a right to a hearing or did the defendant waive that right because of the guilty plea? And if the defendant had the right- whether the denial was appealable.
The Court of Appeals has ruled as follows:
(1) Under CR §5-609.1, a court may modify a mandatory minimum sentence that was imposed prior to the effective date of the JRA following a guilty plea pursuant to a binding plea agreement, even if the State does not consent to the modification. The decision whether to modify a mandatory minimum sentence is a matter within the sentencing court’s discretion, upon consideration of the factors in CR §5-609.1(b).
(2) Under CR §5-609.1, a court may modify a mandatory minimum sentence, even if that sentence was imposed prior to the effective date of the JRA following a guilty plea pursuant to binding a plea agreement in which the defendant waived the right to seek modification of the sentence. The decision whether to modify a mandatory minimum sentence is a matter within the sentencing court’s discretion, upon consideration of the factors in CR §5-609.1(b).
(3) In considering the factors set forth in CR §5-609.1(b) and exercising its discretion to decide whether to modify a mandatory minimum sentence pursuant to that statute, a court should, in most circumstances, conduct a hearing to receive evidence when such evidence will aid the exercise of the court’s discretion and to hear argument from the parties concerning the application of the factors in CR §5-609.1(b). Under Maryland Rule 4-345, the court must hold a hearing before it grants a motion. There is no absolute requirement in the statute or rule to hold a hearing when the court denies a motion.
(4) An appellate court has jurisdiction of an appeal of an order denying a motion under CR §5-609.1 because that statute shifts the burden of persuasion to the State with the result that a decision on that motion is similar to a re-sentencing that results in a final judgment. The decision on such a motion is committed to the discretion of the circuit court and the standard of review is abuse of discretion, which may include a legal error, such as the circuit court failing to recognize or exercise its discretion.