The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bell, C.J.
Tony Lamont Haile v. State of Maryland, No. 112, September Term, 2006. Opinion by Bell,
CRIMINAL LAW - PROCEDURE - MOTION FOR JUDGMENT OF ACQUITTAL
A motion for judgment of acquittal, made at the close of all evidence in a jury trial, is a prerequisite to a defendant's preservation of an evidentiary sufficiency claim for appeal.
CRIMINAL LAW - SUFFICIENCY OF EVIDENCE
When reviewing a question regarding the sufficiency of the evidence presented at trial, an appellate court does not usurp the role of the fact-finder by re-weighing the evidence. Instead, the Court must inquire whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.
STATUTES - INTERPRETATION
The cardinal rule of statutory interpretation is to ascertain and effectuate the intent of the Legislature. If the language of a statute is unambiguous, a court's inquiry as to the legislative intent ends, and the court applies the statute as written without looking to external rules of construction. A court must also review the statutory scheme in its entirety, rather than segmenting and analyzing its individual parts.
*Raker *Cathell Harrell Battaglia Greene *Wilner, Alan M. (Retired, Specially Assigned), JJ.
*Raker and Cathell, JJ., now retired, participated in the hearing and conference of this case while active members of this Court; Wilner, J., retired at the time, also participated in the hearing and conference of this case. After being recalled pursuant to the Constitution, Article IV, Section 3A, they also participated in the decision and adoption of this opinion.
Raker, J., joins in the judgment only.
The petitioner, Tony Lamont Haile, was convicted, by a jury in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County, of first-degree assault, and of aggravated cruelty to animals. The Court of Special Appeals, in an unreported opinion, affirmed the convictions. The petitioner, in this Court, challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support his felony animal cruelty conviction, and claims that his attorney's failure, after the close of all evidence, to renew the motion for judgment of acquittal, made at the end of the State's case, constituted ineffective assistance of counsel. He thus concludes that a reversal of his conviction is required. We granted his petition for writ of certiorari to consider these issues. For the reasons set forth below, we shall affirm the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals.
In July 2004, fifteen-year-old Daniel Sims was stabbed in the back with a five-inch knife. Sims reported the stabbing to the Baltimore County police, naming and describing the petitioner, Tony Lamont Haile, as his assailant. Baltimore County Police Officer Timothy Bowman was dispatched to the petitioner's aunt's house and, while speaking with said aunt at her house, spotted the petitioner, who, upon discovering Officer Bowman's presence, fled, and continued to do so, despite the officer's explicit orders to stop. K-9 Officer Christopher Davies and Bennie, his canine, who responded to Officer Bowman's call for back-up, discovered the petitioner hiding in the backyard of a private residence, with his hands obscured in his waistband. Since the weapon used to stab Mr. Sims had not been recovered, Officer Davies ordered the petitioner to come out of the yard with his hands up, warning him that Bennie, the canine, would be released if he did not comply. When the petitioner refused to show his hands and remained in a position that obscured his left hand, Officer Davies again instructed the petitioner to show his hands and reiterated to the petitioner that Bennie would be released if he failed to comply. The petitioner continued to refuse to show his hands and resisted the attempts of another officer, who had arrived on the scene, to take him into custody, whereupon Officer Davies cut Bennie loose, after shouting, "Police canine, show me your hands or I'll cut the dog loose."*fn1
The canine was trained to use a "bite and hold" technique: it would bite down once to apprehend a suspect, and maintain its grip, and would release its hold only when the suspect has complied with the officer's instructions. Using this technique, Bennie, the canine, seized the petitioner by his upper left arm. In response, in addition to struggling, the petitioner struck Bennie repeatedly on its head, inflicting a half-inch wide cut above its right eye, and causing the canine to release its grip. Subsequently, the petitioner attempted to escape over a fence, and Officer Davies ordered Bennie to seize him again. This time, the canine took hold of the petitioner's left side. Undeterred, the petitioner continued to scale the fence, so Officer Davies ordered Bennie to release its grip, to prevent the petitioner from causing it any further injury in his attempt to escape. The petitioner was apprehended by officers on the other side of the fence.
At the close of the State's case, counsel for the petitioner moved for judgment of acquittal. She argued that the injuries to the dog were inflicted in self-defense. The trial court denied this motion, ruling that the issue of self-defense was a matter for the jury. In his case, the petitioner testified that it was dark on the night in question, that he did not initially realize he was being pursued by the police, and that he only fled because he assumed he was being chased by a gang member, with whom he had previously had trouble. He also testified that, although he did try to shake Bennie off, he did not recall actually striking him. Defense counsel did not move, or renew the motion, for judgment of acquittal at the close of all evidence. The jury convicted the petitioner of first-degree assault for stabbing Daniel Sims, and aggravated cruelty to an animal for the injury he inflicted upon Bennie. The petitioner was sentenced to consecutive terms of twenty and three years imprisonment.
The petitioner appealed his convictions to the Court of Special Appeals. In that court, he challenged, inter alia,*fn2 the sufficiency of the evidence underlying his conviction for first degree assault, as well as the effectiveness of the assistance rendered by his defense counsel. With respect to the latter, he focused on her failure to move for judgment of acquittal at the close of all evidence. The intermediate appellate court affirmed the convictions in an unreported opinion. It declined to consider the petitioner's ineffective assistance of counsel claim, because, it concluded, the evidence at trial supported the petitioner's convictions for both the assault and the cruelty counts. We granted the petitioner's petition for certiorari, Haile v. State, 396 Md. 12, 912 A.2d 648 (2006), to consider the question:
"Was petitioner denied his right to effective assistance of counsel where his trial attorney failed to renew the motion for judgment of acquittal and the evidence was insufficient to sustain a conviction of aggravated cruelty to animals?"
In the interest of clarity, we will reframe the issue, addressing it as two questions: whether the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to sustain the petitioner's conviction for aggravated cruelty to animals, and whether the petitioner's trial attorney rendered ineffective assistance by failing to renew, at the close of all of the evidence, a motion for judgment of acquittal made at the conclusion of the State's case.
We shall answer the first question in the negative, and hold that there was sufficient evidence to convict the petitioner of aggravated cruelty to animals. Since the petitioner's ineffective assistance claim is entirely dependent on his sufficiency claim, we need not reach the second question. Nevertheless, we shall exercise our discretion to discuss it, see Rule 8- 131 (a),*fn3 concluding that we should decline to hold, based only on an argument, and an unquantifiable possibility, that the evidence presented by the State may have fallen short of sufficiency, that counsel's failure to renew a motion for judgment of acquittal automatically renders that assistance ineffective.