Argued: February 8, 2016
Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County, Maryland Criminal Case No. K-2012-001807
Barbera, C.J., [*] Battaglia, Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Watts, Hotten, JJ.
In this case, we decide whether the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County ("circuit court") satisfied Md. Rule 4-215(e), which requires the court to "permit the defendant to explain the reasons for [a] request" to discharge counsel. We shall hold that, where an assistant public defender ("defense counsel") indicated that Jeriko Graves ("Respondent") wished to obtain a postponement to hire private counsel that Respondent had retained in the past, Md. Rule 4-215(e) required that the circuit court seek an explanation for the request to discharge counsel from the defendant, or ensure that the defendant agreed with the reasons proffered by defense counsel. We explain.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
I. Proceedings in the circuit court
Respondent was charged by criminal indictment in the circuit court with two counts of possession of a controlled dangerous substance ("CDS"), one count of possession of CDS with intent to distribute, and one count of second-degree assault. On November 9, 2012, defense counsel entered his appearance on behalf of Respondent. On February 22, 2013, Respondent and defense counsel appeared for a motions hearing, and defense counsel moved for a postponement:
[Defense Counsel]: Thank you, Your Honor. This is defense request for a postponement.
The Court: All right, go ahead.
[Defense Counsel]: Your Honor, thank you very much. I have had the opportunity to speak to [Respondent]. [Respondent] has informed me that he would prefer to have John Robinson represent him in this matter as opposed to myself.
In speaking to [Respondent], apparently Mr. Robinson has represented him in several cases in the past and he has been satisfied with Mr. Robinson's services as his attorney in the past.
In terms of [Respondent's] situation right now, Your Honor, I would tell you, obviously, we are here for a motions hearing today. We have the trial date that is set. It is my understanding that Hicks runs from an arraignment that was held on October 1st. So we are becoming close to Hicks.
[Respondent] is being held now on – he anticipates being held for another 20 days. It is his hope to postpone this case both the motions hearing as well as the trial date. I have spoken to him about Hicks and the ramifications of that.
He would be willing to waive his rights under Hicks but he would like to postpone the motions hearing and the trial date to have the opportunity to essentially become removed from the incarceration and hire John Robinson to represent him in this matter, both for the motions as well as in the trial.
The following exchange between Respondent and the court ensued:
The Court: Okay, Well, I have to hear him if that is what he is requesting. Sir, state your name for the record?
[Respondent]: Jeriko Graves.
The Court: Mr. Graves, if you would like to fire your Public Defender, then I must explain to you that before I could allow you to do that, I would have to continue the case if there is a meritorious reason. If there is no meritorious reason, then the case is going to go forward. Do you understand that?
[Respondent]: Yes, sir.
The Court: Did you at some point in time receive a copy of the charges in this case?
[Respondent]: Yes, I have.
The Court: And you understand how important counsel is, how an attorney can assist you, protect your constitutional rights whether you want to plead guilty or not guilty, an attorney can help you. Do you understand that?
[Respondent]: Yes, sir, I do.
The Court: You are charged with possession with intent to distribute cocaine. It carries 20 years in jail, $25, 000 fine. You are charged with possession of cocaine. It carries four years in jail, $25, 000 fine. You are charged with possession of marijuana. It carries a year in jail, a $1, 000 fine. You are charged with second-degree assault. It carries 10 years in jail, $2, 500 fine. Do you understand that?
[Respondent]: Yes, I do.
The Court: Are there any subsequent mandatory?
[Petitioner]: Yes, he is mandatory.
The Court: From what?
[Petitioner]: He is mandatory on the possession with intent.
The Court: If you are convicted of Count 1, possession with intent to distribute cocaine, you may face a mandatory sentence of 10 years in prison without parole. Please indicate mandatory penalties advised.
Now, sir, if I find that you do not have a meritorious reason to discharge counsel, then the trial will proceed as ...