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Steward v. State

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

August 27, 2014

FARRAH C. STEWARD
v.
STATE OF MARYLAND

Page 363

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Page 364

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Page 365

Appeal from the Circuit Court for Harford County. Angela M Eaves, Judge.

Argued by: Brian M. Saccenti (Paul B. DeWolfe, Public Defender on the brief) all of Baltimore, MD for Appellant.

Argued by: Jason J. George (Douglas F. Gansler, Attorney General on the brief) all of Baltimore, MD for Appellee.

Woodward, Wright, Thieme, Raymond, G., Jr. (Retired, Specially Assigned), JJ.

OPINION

Page 366

[218 Md.App. 555] Thieme, J.

On February 22, 2012, Farrah Steward, appellant, was pulled over for a minor infraction while driving a vehicle on Green Street in Havre De Grace, Harford County, Maryland. The officer who conducted the stop checked appellant's license and discovered that it was suspended. The officer issued appellant a citation for driving with a suspended license.

[218 Md.App. 556] On September 24, 2012, following a one-day jury trial in the Circuit Court for Harford County, appellant was convicted on one count of driving with a suspended license. The circuit court subsequently sentenced appellant to serve one year in prison, all but thirty days suspended, to be followed by one year of unsupervised probation. In her timely filed appeal, appellant raised two questions for our consideration, which we have separated and simplified as follows:[1]

1. Was the evidence presented at appellant's trial sufficient to support appellant's conviction for driving with a suspended license?
2. Did the trial court commit plain error in instructing the jury regarding the elements of the charged offense?
3. Did the performance of appellant's trial attorney constitute ineffective assistance of counsel?

Discerning no error of law or abuse of discretion sufficient to compel us to undertake plain error review, we shall affirm the determinations of the circuit court.

SUFFICIENCY OF THE EVIDENCE

I

At trial, appellant did not contest the fact that she was driving a vehicle on February 22, 2012, or that her MVA [218 Md.App. 557] driving record indicates that her license was suspended on that date. The only element of the offense of driving with a suspended license that was at issue in this case was whether appellant had the requisite mens rea at the time she purportedly committed the offense. In the first issue of her appeal, appellant contends that the evidence presented at her trial was not sufficient to demonstrate that she either knew or was willfully blind to the fact that her license was suspended when she undertook to drive a vehicle on February 22, 2012.

Page 367

Preliminarily, we note that appellant's sufficiency argument was not properly preserved for appellate review. Maryland Rule 4-324(a) provides in pertinent part:

A defendant may move for judgment of acquittal on one or more counts . . . at the close of the evidence offered by the State and, in a jury trial, at the close of all the evidence. The defendant shall state with particularity all reasons why the motion should be granted.

In this case, defense counsel made a motion for judgment of acquittal at the close of the State's case, asserting that the State had failed to produce any evidence that appellant had any knowledge that her license was suspended. Appellant then testified on her own behalf, effectively withdrawing the motion for judgment of acquittal. See Warfield v. State, 315 Md. 474, 487, 554 A.2d 1238 (1989)( " When a defendant offers evidence on his own behalf after his motion for acquittal is denied, the motion is withdrawn and not subject to review." ). Defense counsel then made a motion for judgment of acquittal at the close of all evidence, but did not make any particularized argument in support of the motion, and did not expressly renew, submit, or otherwise adopt the arguments he had previously raised.

It is clear from the record that the trial court assumed that defense counsel's motion at the close of all evidence was intended to incorporate and renew the arguments he had presented in support of his previous motion, and the court addressed those arguments in rendering its determination. Because defense counsel did not make any particularized [218 Md.App. 558] arguments in support of appellant's motion for judgment at the close of all evidence and did not in any way adopt his previous arguments, the motion did not satisfy the requirements of Md. Rule 4-324(a), and therefore, appellant's sufficiency argument was not properly preserved for appellate review. Md. Rule 4-324(a); Md. Rule 8-131(a). We are persuaded, however, that there was no confusion on the part of the trial court regarding the basis for defense counsel's motion for judgment at the close of all evidence, and thus, the purpose of Md. Rule 4-324(a) was served. See Warfield, 315 Md. at 487 (opining that the purpose of the Rule's particularization requirement, " is to enable the trial judge to be aware of the precise basis for the defendant's belief that the evidence is insufficient." ). In the interest of eschewing " magic words" and glorifying form over substance, therefore, we shall briefly address appellant's sufficiency argument.

II

When a question before this Court requires our review of the sufficiency of the evidence to support a conviction, we consider, " '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.'" Bordley v. State, 205 Md.App. 692, 716, 46 A.3d 1204 (2012)(quoting Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979)); accord Smith v. State, 415 Md. 174, 184, 999 A.2d 986 (2010); see also Breakfield v. State, 195 Md.App. 377, 392-393, 6 A.3d 381 (2010)(opining that the limited question before this Court is not " whether the evidence should have or probably would ...


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