STEPHANIE L. SMITH
STATE OF MARYLAND
Argued: May 4, 2017
Court for Prince George's County Case No. CT151085X
Barbera, C.J. Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Watts, Hotten, Getty,
case, the petitioner, Stephanie L. Smith ("Ms.
Smith"), entered into a plea agreement with the State.
The terms of the agreement included that Ms. Smith would
enter a plea of guilty to the crime of theft and that she
would serve jail time. At the guilty plea proceeding, the
sentencing Circuit Court accepted the terms of the agreement,
binding itself to the agreement. However, the judge imposed a
sentence below the terms of the plea agreement by sentencing
Ms. Smith to probation before judgment, not finding her
guilty of theft, and ordering home detention, rather than
actual jail time. Moreover, this was done without the consent
of the State. We shall hold that the more lenient sentence in
this case was not consistent with the terms of the binding
plea agreement and was without the consent of the State;
thus, it was an illegal sentence. Bonilla v. State,
443 Md. 1, 15, 115 A.3d 98, 106 (2015) (holding "that
when a sentencing court violates Rule 4-243(c)(3) by imposing
a sentence below a binding plea agreement without the
State's consent, the sentence is inherently illegal and
subject to correction under Rule 4-345(a)").
Accordingly, we shall affirm the judgment of the Court of
Special Appeals. State v. Smith, 230 Md.App. 214,
146 A.3d 1189 (2016).
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
September 10, 2015, Ms. Smith was indicted by a Grand Jury
for Prince George's County, on various theft charges for
making fraudulent insurance claims, including a charge of
theft of property with a value of at least $10, 000 but less
than $100, 000. Under Md. Code (2002, 2012 Repl. Vol.),
Criminal Law Article ("CR"), § 7-104(g)(ii),
the maximum penalty for this violation is imprisonment not
exceeding 15 years, a fine not exceeding $15, 000, or both.
after the indictment, Ms. Smith, her counsel, and the State
began plea negotiations. Eventually the parties reached a
plea agreement. Ms. Smith agreed to plead guilty to the
primary theft charge. In exchange, Ms. Smith was guaranteed a
sentence not to exceed 5 years of incarceration. Further,
with respect to actual jail time, the 5 year sentence would
be suspended except for 30 to 90 days of incarceration,
followed by 5 years of supervised probation. Moreover, she
would not have to pay a fine. As part of the agreement, the
State would not seek the maximum sentence of incarceration up
to 15 years and a fine up to $15, 000. However, ultimately,
there would be a conviction on Ms. Smith's record and a
requirement that she pay $47, 460.02 restitution to the
victims of the theft.
to Md. Rule 4-243, plea agreements may be binding on the
court. The binding agreement required the approval of the
January 5, 2016, before a judge of the Circuit Court for
Prince George's County, the State called the case for a
hearing on Ms. Smith's acceptance of the guilty plea. The
State presented the judge with the terms of the agreement
that had been reached between the parties:
[PROSECUTOR]: It would be a plea to Count 1, which is theft
scheme greater than $10, 000 but less than $100, 000. In
exchange for the guilty plea, there is a ceiling and a floor.
The State would be allowed to argue for 5 years, suspend all
but 90 days, 5 years supervised probation, and restitution in
the amount of $47, 460.02.
THE COURT: $47, 000.
[PROSECUTOR]: $460.02. And the defense [is] free to argue for
as little as 5 years, suspend all but 30 days, followed by 5
years supervised probation and also the restitution in the
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: [Prosecutor], didn't we talk about I
can ask for weekends?
[PROSECUTOR]: That is correct. The defense is free to argue
that she serve weekends. But, no, we didn't talk about
home detention, just weekends.
State agreed to enter a nolle prosequi to the
remaining counts in exchange for Ms. Smith's guilty plea
to the top count. The judge informed the defense that the
court could impose up to 15 years of incarceration
notwithstanding the agreement. The State then clarified that
the parties were anticipating that the court would bind
itself to the terms they had agreed to:
THE COURT: All right. Now, before I can accept your plea, I
have to be satisfied that the State actually has a factual
basis for this, that they are not whistling in the wind, that
there are basic elements that they would have proven if the
matter had gone to trial. Have a seat. Get yourself together.
Listen to what [the prosecutor] says the State would have
proven had this matter gone to trial.
[PROSECUTOR]: Your Honor, thank you. Just briefly, before
that I have a housekeeping matter. I would like to add that
despite the range, the 90 and 30 days, it is contemplated
this would be a binding plea, therefore, it can only be
modified in the future if both parties agree.
THE COURT: Are you saying that if the Defendant is sentenced
within the parameters of-first of all, are you asking the
Court to bind itself to the 5-year cap?
[PROSECUTOR]: To the range.
THE COURT: 90-day cap.
[PROSECUTOR]: Yes, sir.
THE COURT: Or 30-day cap.
THE COURT: I have to hear the facts before I'm willing to
do that. Okay, number one. And number two, are you saying
that the Defendant is prohibited from asking for
[PROSECUTOR]: No. They are not prohibited from asking. But
before the motion can be granted, both sides would have to
point the judge conditionally agreed to be bound by the terms
of the agreement subject to some unforeseen issue in the
subsequent statement of supporting facts. The judge explained
to Ms. Smith the limits on the sentence that the plea bargain
had imposed and that he was prepared to follow them. The
terms that the judge announced and that Ms. Smith accepted
THE COURT: Okay, I see. Ms. Smith, the [State] is asking me
to bind myself so I won't give you any more than 90 days
jail time. So since that's coming from the State,
that's certainly something that I will consider. The
defense always wants the Court to bind itself to a fixed
amount of time. Your attorney is asking for 30 days.
Naturally, if I did accept this plea, I would take the higher
amount, the 90 days. The other thing, in other words, 5 years
suspend all but 90 days. You get 5 years but the most I could
actually give you in terms of jail time at this time would be
90 days. But if you ...