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Gambrill v. State

Court of Appeals of Maryland

February 27, 2014

Michael GAMBRILL
v.
STATE of Maryland.

Daniel Kobrin, Assistant Public Defender (Paul B. DeWolfe, Public Defender, Baltimore, MD), on brief, for petitioner.

Jessica V. Carter, Asst. Atty. Gen. (Douglas F. Gansler, Atty. Gen. of Maryland, Baltimore, MD), on brief, for respondent.

Argued before BARBERA, C.J., HARRELL, BATTAGLIA, GREENE, ADKINS, McDONALD, WATTS, JJ.

BATTAGLIA, J.

[437 Md. 293] We confront here the question of whether a trial judge had a duty to engage in a Rule 4-215(e) colloquy [1] with Michael [437 Md. 294]

Page 857

Gambrill, Petitioner, when his public defender, on the day of trial, stated: " Your Honor, on behalf of Mr. Gambrill, I'd request a postponement. He indicates that he would like to hire private counsel in this matter." We shall determine that the judge could have reasonably concluded from these statements that Gambrill wanted to discharge his attorney and, thus, erred in failing to permit Gambrill to explain the reasons for his request to discharge counsel, as required by Rule 4-215(e). We explain.

Gambrill was charged with one count of misuse of telephone facilities, pursuant to Section 3-804 of the Criminal Law Article, Maryland Code, [2] and one count of harassment, pursuant to Section 3-803 of the Criminal Law Article, Maryland Code,[3] in the District Court of Maryland sitting in Baltimore [437 Md. 295] City. After Gambrill requested a jury trial and his case had been transferred to the circuit court, two joint requests for postponement were granted before the case eventually was called for trial. Prior to the start of trial, a discussion took place among the trial judge, the Assistant State's Attorney, and the Assistant Public Defender representing Gambrill, during which the judge was informed that Gambrill, if convicted, was facing a potential violation of probation for which he was " looking at backing up fourteen years." Gambrill's counsel, in the following exchange, informed the court that Gambrill was contemplating hiring a specifically named attorney, " if we can't work his case out", whereupon the judge referred the parties to another judge in the

Page 858

circuit court to discuss the disposition of the probation violation case to which the other judge was assigned:

[PUBLIC DEFENDER]: And the other thing is I already told Mr. Gambrill if we can't work his case out and he wants a postponement to hire Jerry Tarud (inaudible). So that would be his request (inaudible).[[4]]
THE COURT: Well let's take this a step at a time.
[STATE'S ATTORNEY]: Yes, Your Honor.
THE COURT: But I mean my suggestion is, because in a lot of these cases where you've got this huge sentence that they're facing, some of the judges are not comfortable, and I don't blame them, I wouldn't be either, you know, transferring over a fourteen year sentence to a, it's a time served, or something similar. So I think it's better maybe if you can [437 Md. 296] maybe get into see Judge Cox to see what he might be inclined to do.
[STATE'S ATTORNEY]: Yes, Your Honor.
THE COURT: All right, and that way we can just do this here and then we indicate on the record what Judge Cox said he'll do in (inaudible).
[STATE'S ATTORNEY]: Yes, Your Honor.

When the parties returned to the courtroom, approximately two hours later, and the case again was called, what happened, if anything, before the judge assigned the probation violation was not referenced, but a pivotal colloquy ensued:

[PUBLIC DEFENDER]: Roland Harris, Assistant Public Defender on behalf of Mr. Gambrill. Your Honor, on behalf of Mr. Gambrill, I'd request a postponement. He indicates that he would like to hire private counsel in this matter.
THE COURT: All right. Postponement is denied. All right, we're going to call for the jury at two o'clock. We'll have a four and four. And we'll start the case today and we'll finish it tomorrow. Okay. Madam Clerk, we're down until two.

The trial ensued, and Gambrill was convicted of both counts after a jury trial and was subsequently sentenced to three years' incarceration, with all but six months suspended, and two years' probation. Gambrill appealed, and before the Court of Special Appeals, argued, inter alia, that reversal was required because the court denied Gambrill's request to obtain private counsel without complying with the requirements of Rule 4-215(e). The Court of Special Appeals, in an unreported opinion, concluded that Rule 4-215(e) was not implicated, because Gambrill did not express a " clear intent" to discharge or replace his attorney:

Like Henry [ v. State, 184 Md.App. 146, 964 A.2d 678 (2009) ] and unlike [ State v. Davis, 415 Md. 22, 997 A.2d 780 (2010) ], appellant never expressed a clear intent to discharge his attorney nor expressed any dissatisfaction with his attorney during any stage of the proceedings.... As was the case in Henry, it was unclear as to whether the [437 Md. 297] appellant sought a postponement to retain private counsel as co-counsel or replacement counsel. Davis, 415 Md. at 34 n. 5 [997 A.2d 780] (citing Henry, 184 Md.App. 146 [964 A.2d 678] ).

Page 859

Because there was no clear indication that appellant wished to discharge his attorney and no indication that appellant was dissatisfied with his attorney, a Maryland Rule 4-215(e) inquiry was not triggered. Consequently, we hold that the trial court did not err when it denied appellant's request for a postponement ...

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