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Williams v. State

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

October 28, 2014


Berger, Arthur, Kenney, James A., III (Retired, Specially Assigned), JJ.



On December 6, 2012, a jury in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County convicted Montray Eugene Williams, appellant, of two counts of robbery. He was sentenced to serve two concurrent terms of life in prison without the possibility of parole. In this timely filed appeal, appellant presents two questions for our consideration:

1. Did the trial court err in sentencing Appellant to two life without parole sentences pursuant to §14-101 of the [Maryland Code (2002, 2012 Repl. Vol.), Criminal Law Article ("C.L.")]?
2. Did the trial court err in allowing improper and prejudicial other crimes evidence at trial?

Discerning no error in appellant's convictions, we shall affirm the judgments of the circuit court. But, because we conclude that the circuit court imposed an illegal sentence, we shall vacate appellant's sentence for the second count of robbery and remand for re-sentencing on that count.


On the morning of January 10, 2012, an African-American man, about five foot, four inches tall, wearing a skull cap, a beige or khaki colored jacket, and a distinctive silver ring, entered the M&T Bank in Woodlawn, Maryland. He pushed his way to the front of the line and demanded money from the two tellers who were servicing customers. Taking approximately $516.00 from the two tellers, the man ran out of the bank. The robbery was recorded on the bank's video surveillance system.

Later that day, appellant was arrested while he was walking toward his residence at 5406 Gwyndale Avenue. When approached by the police officers, he ran towards the back of the residence, discarding his jacket, cell phone, and wallet as he ran. Some of the discarded money matched the serial numbers of the money that had been taken from the bank. Appellant's former girlfriend confirmed that appellant sometimes wore a beige parka and a silver ring. The State also produced surveillance images from a police camera near appellant's residence that show appellant leaving his house about fifteen minutes prior to the robbery, wearing a hat, pants, and beige parka that were similar to those worn by the bank robber.


The Application of C.L. § 14-101

Appellant was previously convicted for armed robbery in 1991 and 1995, and for robbery in 2001. He served three separate terms of incarceration for these convictions. Months prior to appellant's trial in the instant case, the State filed notice of its intent to proceed against appellant as a repeat violent offender under Md. Rule 4-245.

Appellant does not challenge the adequacy of the notice provided by the State or the sufficiency of the evidence produced by the State to prove his prior convictions. He asserts that the circuit court erred by imposing enhanced sentences for both of his robbery convictions in this case. This is because his previous robbery and armed robbery convictions are not enumerated crimes of violence under C.L. §14-101(a), and therefore, the circuit court erred as a matter of law by sentencing him as a fourth-time offender. Appellant further contends that, even if the circuit court was correct in concluding that the enhanced penalty statute was applicable, the court erred by imposing two enhanced sentences for his convictions, which arose from the same robbery.

The State rejects appellant's interpretation of C.L. §14-101(a)(9), asserting that it ignores the clear legislative purpose of the statute and would lead to an absurd result. As to appellant's second argument, the State contends that, because appellant failed to raise any objection to his sentences at the time they were imposed by the court, he has waived the argument for the purposes of his appeal.

Whether the circuit court correctly interpreted and applied the relevant sentencing statute is a question of law, which we shall review de novo. See e.g. Pitts v. State, 205 Md.App. 477, 486 (2012) ("Where a trial court's determination requires the interpretation and application of Maryland's constitutional, statutory or case law, we must determine whether the trial court's legal conclusions are correct utilizing a de novo standard of review." (Citation omitted)).

The offense of robbery, for which appellant was convicted, is proscribed by C.L. §3-402.[1] Appellant was sentenced as a repeat violent offender pursuant to C.L. §14-101, which provides, in pertinent part:

(b) Fourth conviction of crime of violence.
(1) Except as provided in subsection (f) of this section, on conviction for a fourth time of a crime of violence, a person who has served three separate terms of confinement in a correctional facility as a result of three separate convictions of any crime of violence shall be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
(2) Notwithstanding any other law, the provisions of this subsection are mandatory.

C.L. §14-101(b). Among the enumerated crimes of violence that form the basis for an enhanced penalty, the statute includes "robbery under §3-402 or §3-403 of this article[.]" C.L. §14-101(a)(9).

Prior to 2000, robbery was a common law offense with a statutory penalty. See Md. Code (1957, 1996 Repl. Vol.) §§486, 488 of Article 27 (setting the maximum penalties for the crimes of robbery and robbery with a deadly weapon, but not defining those offenses). The General Assembly codified the crimes of robbery and armed robbery as Art. 27 §486 and Art. 27 §487, respectively, effective October 1, 2000.[2] When the Criminal Law Article was subsequently adopted on October 1, 2002, the statutes proscribing robbery and armed robbery were recodified as C.L. §3-402 and C.L. §3-403, "without any substantive change" from Art. 27 §486 and Art. 27 §487. Revisor's Notes, C.L. §§3-402, 3-403.

The current version of the enhanced penalty statute, C.L. §14-101, was derived without substantive change from Art. 27 §643B, which was originally enacted in 1975. Revisor's Notes, C.L. §14-101; Art. 27 §643B. For as long as there has been an enhanced penalty statute in Maryland, robbery and armed robbery have been included in the enumerated list of violent crimes that form the basis for the ...

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