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Bowers v. State

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

March 30, 2016

JONATHAN EUGENE BOWERS
v.
STATE OF MARYLAND

Wright, Kehoe, Nazarian, JJ.

OPINION

Wright, J.

Following a guilty plea in the Circuit Court for Somerset County on March 13, 2013, appellant, Jonathan Eugene Bowers, was sentenced to 10 years' incarceration for one count of involuntary manslaughter.[1] On December 10, 2014, Bowers filed a motion to correct an illegal sentence pursuant to Md. Rule 4-345 arguing that because the manslaughter sentencing statute, Md. Code (2002, 2012, Repl. Vol.), Criminal Law Article ("CR") § 2-207, is ambiguous, he is subject to the rule of lenity which requires that CR § 2-207 be read in his favor. In this case, Bowers asserts that CR § 2-207 should be read as imposing two separate maximum sentences for voluntary and involuntary manslaughter; since he is convicted of involuntary manslaughter, he argues he should be subject to a maximum of 2 years in a local facility and, therefore, his 10-year sentence is illegal. Bowers's motion was denied by the circuit court on January 20, 2015. This appeal follows.

On appeal, Bowers presents the following question for our review: [2]

Did the circuit court properly deny Bowers's motion to correct an illegal sentence?

After a careful consideration of Maryland criminal law cases, authority, and legislative history, we hold that Bowers's 10-year sentence for involuntary manslaughter is not illegal.

BACKGROUND

On October 27, 2012, at approximately 3:52 a.m., officers from the Somerset County Sheriff's Department responded to a report of an unconscious individual. When they arrived, the officers saw Bowers seated on the side of the road with his hands in the air. The unconscious individual was Bowers's father, Jonathan David Bowers. The senior Bowers was lying motionless and bleeding from his face.

When the officers returned to Bowers, he had his hands in the air, and said "he and his father [] were arguing and they had gotten into a fight and it happened real fast." Witnesses on the scene reported that Bowers and his father were seen arguing earlier in the evening, and that later on, during the altercation, Bowers repeatedly kicked his father, uttering "in a distressed, emotional state that he hoped [his father] was dead." Bowers was escorted to the officers' patrol unit in handcuffs. Approximately an hour later, Bowers's father was pronounced dead from "head and neck injuries as a result of multiple blunt force impact."

Bowers is a former United States Marine and has completed two combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bowers suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD")[3] as a result of the numerous traumatic events his experienced in combat. He contends that at the time he killed his father, he "was in a dissociated rage state for the period following the initial blows . . . [and] he was not consciously aware of his actions" as a result of the PTSD.

Bowers was originally indicted for first-degree murder and a series of lesser offenses. In exchange for the non-prosecution of the remaining charges, Bowers pleaded guilty to one count of involuntary manslaughter. Bowers received a 10-year sentence to be served in the custody of the Commissioner of Corrections. He filed this timely appeal arguing that the imposition of a 10-year sentence for involuntary manslaughter is illegal.

DISCUSSION

In Maryland, manslaughter remains a common law crime with a prescribed statutory penalty. State v. Gibson, 4 Md.App. 236, 241-44 (1968), aff'd, 254 Md. 399 (1969). In other words, the elements for the unlawful act of manslaughter have not been defined by the legislature but remain in its common law form.[4] Moore v. State, 194 Md.App. 327, 370 (2010); rev'd on other grounds, 422 Md. 516 (2011). The statutorily prescribed penalty for manslaughter is found in CR § 2-207 and provides, in pertinent part:

Penalty
(a) A person who commits manslaughter is guilty of a felony and on conviction is subject to:
(1)imprisonment not exceeding 10 years; or
(2)imprisonment in a local correctional facility not exceeding 2 years or a fine not exceeding $500 or both.

Bowers avers that the maximum penalty he should have received under the statute should have been 2 years and, therefore, his 10-year sentence for involuntary manslaughter is illegal. He argues that because the manslaughter statute provides what he considers to be two possible maximum penalties, the language of the manslaughter statute is inherently ambiguous. As a result of this ambiguity, Bowers argues that he is entitled to the application of the rule of lenity.[5] He urges us to adopt a construction of the statute that places the 10-year maximum penalty provision on a voluntary manslaughter conviction and the 2-year maximum penalty on an involuntary manslaughter conviction.

I. Bowers did not waive his illegal sentence claim by failing to object or because he entered into ...


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