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Howard v. State

Court of Appeals of Maryland

November 19, 2014

GREGORY HOWARD
v.
STATE OF MARYLAND

Argued: September 3, 2014

Circuit Court for Baltimore City Case Nos. 108310005 and 108310006

Barbera, C.J. Harrell Battaglia Greene Adkins McDonald Watts, JJ.

OPINION

WATTS, J.

We decide: (I) whether a circuit court judge other than a county administrative judge or that judge's designee may deny a motion to postpone; (II.A) whether a trial court abuses its discretion in denying a motion to postpone to obtain counsel because the trial court does not ask questions of a self-represented defendant who has expressly waived the right to counsel after being advised of the right to counsel under Maryland Rule 4-215(b) (Express Waiver of Counsel); (II.B) whether, here, a trial court abused its discretion in denying a motion to postpone to review discovery materials because a defendant alleged that, within the previous week, the State had provided him with discovery materials; and (III) whether, here, the defendant's constitutional right to a speedy trial was violated.

We hold that: (I) any circuit court judge may deny a motion to postpone; (II.A) a trial court does not abuse its discretion in denying a motion to postpone to obtain counsel because the trial court does not ask questions of a self-represented defendant who has expressly waived the right to counsel after being advised of the right to counsel under Maryland Rule 4-215(b); (II.B) here, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion to postpone to review discovery materials because the defendant alleged that, within the previous week, the State had provided him with discovery materials; and (III) here, the defendant's constitutional right to a speedy trial was not violated.

BACKGROUND

On October 8, 2008, law enforcement arrested Gregory Howard ("Howard"), Petitioner. The State, Respondent, charged Howard with first-degree rape and other crimes. On December 2, 2008, Howard was arraigned in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City ("the circuit court"), which scheduled trial for February 23, 2009.

Thereafter, the circuit court postponed trial eight times; Howard requested, either jointly with the State or separately, five of the postponements. On February 23, 2009, the circuit court granted a jointly-requested postponement, for which the circuit court charged both parties because the State had just provided discovery materials to Howard's counsel, who needed time to investigate. On May 5, 2009, the circuit court granted a State-requested postponement, for which the circuit court charged the State because Howard's counsel had not yet received DNA test results; on that date, in the circuit court, Howard stated: "[T]hey took my DNA four times." On August 11, 2009, the circuit court granted a jointly-requested postponement, for which the circuit court did not charge either party because Howard's counsel was awaiting her expert's analysis of the DNA test results. On November 4, 2009, the circuit court granted a State-requested postponement, for which the circuit court charged the State because a State's witness was unavailable.

On December 17, 2009, on his own behalf, Howard filed in the circuit court the first of multiple motions to dismiss for violation of his right to a speedy trial.[1] On January 22, 2010, the circuit court granted a State-requested postponement because a State's witness was unavailable.[2] On April 27, 2010, the circuit court granted a defense-requested postponement, for which the circuit court charged Howard because he had discharged his first lawyer[3] and needed time to be assigned a new one. On July 20, 2010, the circuit court granted a defense-requested postponement, for which the circuit court charged Howard because his second lawyer needed time to prepare. On October 27, 2010, the circuit court advised Howard that the maximum penalty for first-degree rape and first-degree sexual offense was imprisonment for life; informed Howard of the right to counsel and the importance of assistance of counsel; and informed Howard that trial would proceed as scheduled with Howard unrepresented by counsel if Howard discharged counsel and did not have new counsel. On that date, Howard discharged his second lawyer, and the circuit court granted a jointly-requested postponement, for which the circuit court charged the State because a State's witness was unavailable. At that time, the circuit court scheduled trial for January 21, 2011.

On January 21, 2011, the circuit court made certain that Howard had received a copy of the charging document containing notice as to the right to counsel; informed Howard of the right to counsel and the importance of assistance of counsel; and ensured that Howard was aware of the allowable penalties for the charges. Afterward, Howard expressly waived the right to counsel. On January 24, 2011, the circuit court denied the motions to dismiss for violation of Howard's right to a speedy trial.

On January 26, 2011, Howard appeared before the trial judge, who was not the circuit court's administrative judge or that judge's designee. Howard requested a postponement and requested the appointment of counsel, alleging that, within the previous week, the State had provided him with discovery materials. The trial judge denied the request for a postponement and the request for the appointment of counsel.

On January 31, 2011, trial began. A jury convicted Howard of first-degree rape and first-degree sexual offense. Howard appealed, and the Court of Special Appeals affirmed in an unreported opinion. Howard filed a petition for a writ of certiorari, which this Court granted. See Howard v. State, 435 Md. 266, 77 A.3d 1084 (2013).

DISCUSSION

I.

Howard contends that the trial judge lacked the authority to deny the motion to postpone because only a county administrative judge or that judge's designee may deny a motion to postpone.[4] Specifically, Howard argues that Md. Code Ann., Crim. Proc. (2001, 2008 Repl. Vol.) ("CP") § 6-103(b) and Maryland Rule 4-271(a)(1) deprive circuit court judges other than county administrative judges or those judges' designees of the authority to deny motions to postpone. The State responds that the trial judge had the authority to deny the motion to postpone because, based on CP § 6-103(b)'s and Maryland Rule 4-271(a)(1)'s plain language and purpose, any circuit court judge may deny a motion to postpone.

An appellate court reviews without deference a trial court's interpretation of a statute or a Maryland Rule. See Lowery v. State, 430 Md. 477, 487, 61 A.3d 794, 800 (2013) ("[W]e review a trial court's interpretation of a statute through a non-deferential prism." (Citations and internal quotation marks omitted)); Fuster v. State, 437 Md. 653, 664, 89 A.3d 1114, 1120 (2014) ("An appellate ...


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