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Randall v. State

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

July 1, 2015

CRYSTAL HAYSLETT RANDALL
v.
STATE OF MARYLAND

Leahy, Reed, Rodowsky, Lawrence F., (Retired, specially assigned) JJ.

OPINION

LEAHY, J.

In 2009, Alma Matthews Lynch-a Montgomery County, Maryland resident- passed away, leaving a will devising, among other things, real property located in Arizona to the beneficiaries of her residuary estate. As designated under the will, the Register of Wills for Montgomery County appointed Ms. Lynch's niece, Appellant Crystal Hayslett Randall, and Ms. Lynch's partner, Clifton Terry, as co-personal representatives of the estate. These appointments proved ill-fated. Appellant, an Arizona resident, sold the Arizona property, failed to account for the sale within the Maryland Estate, and took the lion's share of the proceeds for herself.

A Montgomery County grand jury indicted Appellant for embezzlement and theft on July 21, 2011. The following day, the Circuit Court for Montgomery County issued a bench warrant. The Sheriff's Office entered the warrant into a national database, but efforts to confirm Appellant's address in Arizona delayed her arrest until December 7, 2012.

After several failed attempts to fight her extradition to Maryland, Appellant filed a motion to dismiss alleging denial of her right to a speedy trial. The circuit court denied that motion after holding a hearing. Additionally, before trial and then during her motion for acquittal, Appellant challenged the State of Maryland's jurisdiction to prosecute the charges filed against her, contending that jurisdiction existed in Arizona where the alleged crime occurred. The circuit court denied the motion for acquittal, concluding that Appellant had a duty to account for the proceeds to the Maryland estate and that the effect of the crime was felt in Maryland. At the close of her trial on August 14, 2013, the jury convicted Appellant of both charges, and Appellant was sentenced to a total of ten years with all but 18 months suspended. In her timely appeal, Appellant presents three questions for our review:

I. "Did the Circuit Court err in denying Ms. Randall's motion to dismiss for failure to provide a speedy trial?"
II. "Do the courts of the State of Maryland have territorial jurisdiction to prosecute alleged theft and embezzlement offenses when all of the acts comprising the elements [of] those offenses occurred, if at all, in Arizona?"
III. "Did the Circuit Court err in permitting Linda Hawkins, the Deputy Register of Wills, to testify to the practices and procedures of the Montgomery County Regist[er] of Wills, when those practices and procedures are based on the Regist[er]'s interpretation of legal rules and requirements?"

We conclude that the circuit court did not err in denying Appellant's motion to dismiss on speedy-trial grounds because the State of Maryland engaged in a reasonably diligent attempt to locate Appellant in Arizona and bring her to trial. See Doggett v. United States, 505 U.S. 647, 651-52 (1992). Appellant-cloaked in authority issued by the State of Maryland as personal representative of the estate-had a duty to report the proceeds from the sale of the Arizona property in Maryland, and therefore, we hold that the State of Maryland possessed territorial jurisdiction to prosecute the crimes against Appellant under the "duty to account" theory espoused in Wright v. State, 339 Md. 399 (1995). Finally, we hold that even if the court erred in admitting the testimony of Ms. Hawkins as improper expert testimony by a lay witness, that error was harmless because her testimony, although relevant to the issue of jurisdiction and the general administration of an estate, was not relevant to proving the charges Appellant was facing and was not otherwise prejudicial. We affirm the judgments of the circuit court.

BACKGROUND

Appellant stood trial before a jury in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County on August 12-14, 2013, charged with embezzlement (fraudulent misappropriation by a fiduciary) and theft of property with a value of at least $10, 000.00 but less than $100, 000.00. The testimony and evidence presented at trial reflected the following.

A. Ms. Lynch's Last Will and Testament

Alma Matthews Lynch, a resident of Montgomery County, Maryland, executed her last will and testament on July 10, 2009. She designated Clifton Terry, her lifetime partner, and Appellant, her niece and a realtor by profession, as the co-personal representatives of her estate. After bequeathing certain property to various individuals, Ms. Lynch directed that her residuary estate be devised accordingly:

All of the rest, residue and remainder of my estate and property of every nature, whether real, personal or mixed, wheresoever situate, of which I may die seized or possessed or to which I may in anywise be entitled at the time of my death, after allowance or payment therefrom of all estate, succession, legacy or inheritance taxes and charges of every description, I give, devise and bequeath as follows:
A.THIRTY-FIVE PERCENT (35%) to the then surviving descendants of my sister, NADEAN M. HAYSLETT, who survive me for thirty (30) days, per stirpes.
B. FIFTEEN PERCENT (15%) to my friend, CLIFTON W. TERRY, if he survives me for thirty (30) days.
C. The then remainder to my sister, NADEAN M. HAYSLETT, if she survive me for thirty (30) days. In the event that she does not so survive me, distribution shall be made in accordance with paragraph A of this Item.

The residuary estate included real property that Ms. Lynch owned in Arizona, located at 1342 West Coral Reef Drive in the town of Gilbert, Maricopa County (hereinafter "Arizona property"). Her family members were familiar with this residence, as they would gather at this home for Christmas.

Several months after executing her will, Ms. Lynch passed away on September 14, 2009. On September 23, 2009, the Register of Wills for Montgomery County, Maryland, issued an administrative probate order admitting Ms. Lynch's will dated July 10, 2009, into probate and appointing Appellant and Mr. Terry as personal representatives of the estate. That same day, a "List of Interested Persons" under Ms. Lynch's estate, totaling 20 individuals, was filed with the Maryland Register of Wills. Appellant and Mr. Terry thereafter filed the "First Account"[1] of the estate for the period of September 14, 2009, through July 30, 2010, which reflected the value of the total estate at $763, 761.99. This account did not include the value of the Arizona property, [2] although it identified expenses relating to the Arizona property that would be covered by the estate. On September 1, 2010, notice that the First Account was filed was sent to all Interested Persons pursuant to E.T. § 7-501.

B. Concealing the Sale

For over a decade, Appellant had been a resident of Gilbert, Arizona, where the Arizona property was located and also where her parents resided. Accordingly, Mr. Terry and Appellant agreed it only made sense for Appellant, a realtor by profession, to handle the sale of the Arizona property. Appellant retained an Arizona attorney on behalf of the estate, who, on November 3, 2009, filed a certified copy of a letter of administration issued by the State of Maryland in the Superior Court of Arizona in and for the County of Maricopa.[3] The letter was filed pursuant to Arizona Revised Statutes Annotated § 14-4204, [4] to declare Appellant and Mr. Terry's proof of authority to administer the estate's Arizona property.

Although both Mr. Terry and Appellant signed the listing agreement for the home at the outset, only Appellant served as the listing agent for the Arizona property. It took some time for the property to sell after it was put on the market, but on December 21, 2010, Appellant was able to sell the property for $220, 000.00. After closing costs and satisfaction of a mortgage held by Wells Fargo on the property, the remaining proceeds totaled $90, 960.30. As listing agent, Appellant received a $7, 325 commission.[5]

As requested by the title company at settlement, on December 21st Appellant also filed an "estate tax affidavit." The affidavit, dated December 17 and sworn before a notary on December 20, was filed with the Official Records of Maricopa County Recorder in Arizona. Appellant avowed that "all debts owed by the Decedent at the time of death, all claims against the estate, all estate expenses, including costs of administration . . . have been paid in full." She further attested that "the estate of the Decedent was valued at $12, 000 so the estate was less than the exemption provided under federal estate tax law and the Arizona statutes relating to estate taxes, and, therefore, no taxes were due."

Bank records reflect that on the day of settlement, all proceeds from the sale- $90, 960.30-were wire-transferred to M&I Bank in Arizona and deposited into a checking account that Appellant had previously opened in the "name of Alma M. Lynch Estate, Crystal L. Hayslett, personal representative[.]" Mr. Terry testified at trial that he was unaware Appellant had opened this account. Appellant was the only person authorized to conduct transactions relating to this account, and she immediately made two withdrawals: one in the amount of $74, 734.88 and another for $1, 000.00. With the larger withdrawal, Appellant purchased certified checks and then issued two certified checks to herself in amounts of $64, 000.00 and $1, 000, [6] and three certified checks to three beneficiaries under the will in the amounts of $4, 855.00, $1, 817.44, and $1, 757.44. She also withdrew $1, 280.00 in cash. After bank fees were withdrawn, at the end of the day on December 21st, only $15, 255.67 remained in the account.

The next day, on December 22, 2010, Appellant made two additional transactions on the account: she transferred $1, 502.44 to a minor beneficiary's trust account and $1, 302.44 to an account owned by Appellant, leaving a balance of $12, 450.79. On December 24, Appellant issued one check to the wife of one of the beneficiaries in the amount of $2, 430.83, leaving a balance of $10, 019.96 after bank fees. Finally, on December 30, just nine days after the settlement date, Appellant made one final withdrawal in the amount of $10, 019.96 to herself, leaving the balance of the account at $0.[7]

On December 24, 2010, Appellant wrote a letter to the beneficiaries under the Lynch will, including Mr. Terry, notifying them that she was resigning from her role as personal representative. She formally submitted her resignation to the Arizona court on January 14, 2011.

C. Looking for Answers

Mr. Terry testified at trial that he had no knowledge that Appellant had sold the property until he reviewed the Wells Fargo mortgage balance and was advised by the bank that the property had been sold and the mortgage satisfied. Mr. Terry mailed Appellant a letter, dated December 30, 2010, advising that he had been informed that the loan had been paid off and "request[ed] that [she] apprise [him] of the full details of the sale and/or payoff transaction conducted with the bank at the earliest opportunity." He also testified that he tried to contact Appellant via phone and e-mail seeking answers, but was unsuccessful. Finally he received an e-mail from Appellant on January 15, 2011, although the e-mail did not make any mention of the sale of the home. Instead, the e-mail included attachments for invoices related to the carrying costs of the home, totaling approximately $650.00. In the e-mail, Appellant informed Mr. Terry, "This is all I have written out of all estate accounts that you do not have documentation on."

Mr. Terry testified that, as one of the beneficiaries under the will, he did not receive any fraction of the proceeds from the sale, and the distributions that were, in fact, made to a few of the 20 beneficiaries were not executed pursuant to the dictates of the will.[8] Appellant's sister, Annette Hayslett, who was also a beneficiary, testified that she neither received notification that the Arizona home was sold nor any distributions from the sale proceeds.

Linda Hawkins, Chief Deputy of the Montgomery County Register of Wills, was called to testify at trial on behalf of the State. She explained that she had reviewed the probate file, and that the Maryland estate had allotted $33, 243.35 in expenses to the Arizona property during the probate process. She did not see any report of sale regarding the Arizona property before December 2012 (the time of Appellant's eventual arrest).

D. The State's Investigation

In February, 2011, Mr. Terry contacted the State's Attorney's Office for Montgomery County to report his concerns about Appellant's sale of the Arizona property. David Newcomer, Chief Investigator for the State's Attorney's Office for Montgomery County, conducted the ensuing investigation. He testified at trial that he contacted the Maricopa County Superior Court in Arizona for a complete copy of all documents filed by Appellant with the court. The copy of the file that he received was admitted into evidence and included the following documents: a Proof of Authority, State of Maryland Letters of Administration, and a notification of Appellant's resignation as personal representative.[9]

Mr. Newcomer's investigation uncovered Appellant's activities after the M&I account was emptied and closed. A search of the Maricopa County land records revealed that about a week after Appellant drained the checking account, on January 7, 2011, the trustee on a deed of trust on the property located at 1985 Bahama Drive, Gilbert, Arizona, filed a "notice of trustee's sale", notifying Appellant that the bank would be foreclosing on the property for default on a loan. Appellant had owned the property since 2002, and she listed 1985 Bahama Drive as her address on the documents filed along with the Proof of Authority in the Maricopa County Court. Appellant's property was ultimately sold on April 8, 2011.

Meanwhile, by a warranty deed created on January 5, 2011 and recorded on January 20, 2011, Appellant and her husband purchased another property located at 2613 East Jessica Lane, Phoenix, Arizona for the sale price of $60, 000.00. The transaction was a full-cash purchase without financing.

It was not until about two years following the sale of the Arizona property, on December 13, 2012, that Mr. Terry, acting as the sole personal representative, filed in the Orphan's Court for Montgomery County, Maryland, the Revised Second and Final Account of Ms. Lynch's estate for the period of July 30, 2010 through May 31, 2011. The public docket history of Ms. Lynch's estate available with the Register of Wills, although not introduced at trial, reflects that in the intervening two years, various actions were conducted regarding the estate, including various claims by creditors, exceptions filed to the first final account, and disputes regarding attorney's fees. The final account documented the distributions made to the beneficiaries of Ms. Lynch's estate after expenses and taxes were paid. Because the proceeds from the sale were never remitted to the Maryland estate, the final account did not reflect the sale of the Arizona property or the proceeds therefrom.

E. Appellant's Case at Trial

The State concluded its case after presenting testimony from Mr. Terry, the co-personal representative, Mr. Newcomer, the State's investigator, Annette Hayslett, Appellant's sister, and Ms. Hawkins, the Deputy Register of Wills. Appellant moved for judgment of acquittal. She claimed a lack of evidence upon which a reasonable jury could conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that (1) the State of Maryland possessed jurisdiction to prosecute Appellant or (2) Appellant possessed the requisite intent to commit the crimes alleged. Appellant's defense at trial was that she retained the funds by innocent misunderstanding, believing she was entitled to the funds from her work as personal representative and in closing Ms. Lynch's company, Source Staffing. The court denied the motion, but reserved its ruling on jurisdiction until the close of all evidence.

Appellant called two witnesses on her behalf. First, Dena Feeney, the attorney who assisted in the Maryland estate administration, [10] testified that she advised Appellant to consult with an Arizona attorney for handling the Arizona property, but did not have personal knowledge regarding what was done in Arizona thereafter. She advised both Mr. Terry and Appellant that it would be "possible" but not easy to close the Maryland estate before the Arizona property was sold. Conwell Akers, the director of operations at Source Staffing, Ms. Lynch's company, also testified very briefly that Ms. Lynch introduced both Mr. Terry and Appellant to the staff members before her death with the intention that they would run and sell the company after she passed.

At the close of all evidence, Appellant renewed her motion for acquittal. The court denied the motion, and as to the jurisdictional issue, relied on Wright v. State, 339 Md. 399 (1995), discussed infra, because "the Wright principle kicks in where the duty to account would authorize jurisdiction within the State of Maryland." (Italics added).

On August 14, 2013, the jury convicted Appellant of theft of property having a value of at least $10, 000 but less than $100, 000 and embezzlement (misappropriation by a fiduciary). On October 17, 2013, the circuit court imposed a 10-year sentence for theft and a concurrent five-year sentence for embezzlement, with all but 18 months suspended, and credit for time served. The court also ordered that upon Appellant's release from incarceration, Appellant will be placed on supervised probation for five years with conditions, including restitution. Appellant noted a timely appeal on October 21, 2013 within 30 days of sentencing.

We include additional facts in the discussion relevant to the issues there examined.

DISCUSSION

I.

Speedy Trial

Appellant contends that the circuit court erred in denying her motion to dismiss for violation of her constitutional right to a speedy trial. When reviewing a circuit court's judgment on a motion to dismiss claiming deprivation of the right to a speedy trial, "we make our own independent constitutional analysis." Glover v. State, 368 Md. 211, 220 (2002) (citing State v. Bailey, 319 Md. 392, 415, cert. denied, 498 U.S. 841 (1990)). "We perform a de novo constitutional appraisal in light of the particular facts of the case at hand; in so doing, we accept a lower court's findings of fact unless clearly erroneous." Id. at 221 (citations omitted).

Appellant filed a motion to dismiss for failure to provide a speedy trial on May 10, 2013. The State filed an opposition on May 29, 2013, and Appellant filed a reply on June 4, 2013, attaching, among other items, an affidavit in which she attested to her correct address and the prejudice caused by the delay of her trial. On June 6, 2013, the circuit court held a hearing on Appellant's motion to dismiss, and the testimony and evidence presented reflected the following.

David Newcomer testified that during the investigation he conducted in 2011, he attempted to notify Appellant of the complaint and ensuing investigation by mailing "a letter, we call a target letter[, ]" via certified mail to four possible Arizona addresses for Appellant.[11] All of these letters were returned as undeliverable or unclaimed. Thereafter, on July 21, 2011, a Montgomery County grand jury indicted Appellant, and on the following day the circuit court issued a bench warrant for Appellant's arrest. Roughly a week after the indictment was returned, Mr. Newcomer went to the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office Warrant and Fugitive Section and shared all the information gathered during his investigation.

On August 1, 2011, the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office-which oversees more than 2, 000 active warrants-entered the warrant into the National Criminal Information Center ("NCIC"), [12] a 24-hour system accessible to law enforcement officers across the country. The warrant was also entered into MILES, a state system, on August 1, 2011, and into E-Justice, a local system, on January 26, 2011.

The Montgomery County Sheriff's Office does not have the authority to arrest an individual outside of Maryland. On August 2, 2011, the Office faxed a copy of the warrant and all of Appellant's identifying information to the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office in Arizona listing the address of 2613 E. Jessica Lane, Phoenix, AZ 85040.

Mr. Newcomer testified that after several months the warrant had not been served, so he checked NCIC and re-conducted background checks. Unfortunately, this did not reveal any new information. Then, about three to four times over a period of eight or nine months, Mr. Newcomer conducted additional background checks and contacted the Arizona Motor Vehicle Administration to see if there was any new address for Appellant. In late October 2012, while conducting another check, Mr. Newcomer received information that Appellant updated her cell phone plan using an address at 729 North Octocello Lane in Gilbert, Arizona. He forwarded this information to the fugitive unit in the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office. This address was listed as Appellant's parents' house on the Sheriff's Office's work-up sheet.

On December 6, 2012, Sergeant Strawderman with the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office called the Phoenix City Police Department to follow up on the warrant. A Phoenix police officer said they would attempt service on Appellant's Jessica Lane address. Sergeant Strawderman also spoke with an officer from the Gilbert County Police Department, who advised that their Department would attempt service on the Octocello Lane address in Gilbert. That same day, Sergeant Strawderman faxed another copy of Appellant's warrant to the Phoenix Police Department. On December 7, 2012, the Police Department in Arizona executed the warrant and arrested Appellant at the 2631 East Jessica Lane address.

Appellant was released on bond from the warrant for about three months before attending an extradition hearing in Arizona. Further details surrounding this hearing are not in the record before this Court.[13] The State also proffered to the court at her first appearance, and the record likewise reflects, that she filed a habeas proceeding in Arizona as well. Though again, the record does not contain any more details about this proceeding.

On February 4, 2013, the Governor of Arizona issued an extradition warrant commanding the local Arizona County Sheriff's Office to deliver Appellant to the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office. On March 7, 2013, deputies from the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office traveled to Arizona to apprehend and arrest Appellant. After Appellant was extradited to Maryland the following day, [14] she made an initial appearance in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County on March 8, 2013 at which time the court set Appellant's bond at $10, 000 cash surety. She posted the bond and was released from commitment on March 13, 2013. Appellant's trial began on August 12, 2013.[15]

The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 21 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights guarantee an accused's right to a speedy trial.[16] Divver v. State, 356 Md. 379, 387-88 (1999). The Court of Appeals applies the constitutional analysis articulated in Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 529-30 (1972), when reviewing a speedy-trial challenge under the Sixth Amendment and Article 21. Glover, 368 Md. at 222-21 (citing Divver, 356 Md. at 388).

In Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 529-30 (1972), the Supreme Court recognized that the right to a speedy trial is different from any other right enshrined in the Constitution because it protects not just the individual who is accused, but also the community at large. Id. at 519-20. Justice Powell, writing for the Court, observed that the inability of courts to provide prompt trials can have significant impacts on society. For example, delays between arrest and trial increase pretrial detention costs, give persons released on bond opportunities to commit other crimes or escape ...


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