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National Crime Victim Law Institute

Antoine v. State, --- A.3d ---, No. 2880, 2020 WL 487289 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. Jan. 30, 2020)

February 14, 2020

Defendant pled guilty to second-degree assault, and the trial court took back the guilty finding and ordered probation according to the terms of the plea agreement. The trial court made the probation unsupervised in exchange for defendant paying restitution in an amount to be determined by the court. The victim was not present at the hearing because the assigned prosecutor in the case, not anticipating the plea negotiation, had told him that “nothing substantive would occur” during the hearing and “not to appear” in court. Upon learning of the plea agreement, the victim filed two motions with the trial court: (1) asserting violations of victims’ rights and asking the court to set aside the plea and disposition; and (2) seeking restitution. The trial court assumed for the sake of argument that the victims’ rights were violated, but found that it was not authorized to order a new sentence. The victim filed the writ of mandamus to enforce his rights, arguing that the trial court erred by, inter alia, violating Maryland’s Code of Criminal Procedure. Specifically, the victim argued that the trial court: (1) denied him an opportunity to submit a victim impact statement to the court as required under § 11-402(b); (2) failed to consider the victim impact statement in determining the appropriate sentence as required under § 11-402(d); and (3) declined to “allow [him] … to address the court under oath before the imposition of sentence” as required under § 11-403(b). The Court of Special Appeals agreed with the victim, finding that the trial court violated these statutory provisions, as well as the requirement in § 11-103(e)(1) that “the court shall ensure that the victim is in fact afforded the rights provided to victims by law.” In so finding, the appellate court stated that “[t]he statutory rights to present victim impact evidence are therefore meaningful only if they are afforded before a trial court formally binds itself to a particular disposition of a case.” The court highlighted that these rights are just as important when accepting negotiated plea agreements as when sentencing a defendant after a trial. The court then rejected the trial court’s conclusion that it lacked authority to provide a remedy for the violations. The court pointed to Sections 11-103(e)(2) and (3), and found that collectively, the provisions authorize a court, upon finding that a victim’s rights have been violated, to grant relief necessary to rectify the violation, provided that the victim requests relief within 30 days of the violation and that the remedy does not violate the defendant’s double jeopardy rights. The court outlined a three step process for determining whether a court can provide a remedy. First, did the victim request relief within 30 days of the violation? Second, what relief is necessary to remedy the violation? Third, would that remedy violate the defendant’s double jeopardy rights? In answering the second question, the court held “that when a crime has produced an identifiable victim who has made known his or her desire to submit a victim impact statement and provide testimony before disposition, a trial court must defer its decision to approve or reject the plea agreement until the victim has been afforded a reasonable opportunity to exercise those rights.” The court held that the necessary remedy would be to vacate the trial court’s approval of the plea agreement so that the trial court could consider the victim’s impact evidence before deciding whether to approve the plea agreement. Turning to the third question, and whether such a remedy is authorized, the court looked to the federal Fifth Amendment double jeopardy jurisprudence and concluded that it was. The court reasoned that the proposed remedy did not disturb the guilty plea itself, only the sentence and the agreement that would bind the court to impose that sentence. The only way defendant’s guilty plea would be undone is if he elected to withdraw it if the trial court refused to impose the agreed sentence after hearing from the victim. As such, the appellate court vacated defendant’s sentence and the court’s approval of the plea agreement and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with the opinion.