Argued: May 9, 2017
Court for Baltimore City Case Nos. 199252017, 293113001,
Barbera, C.J., Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Watts, Hotten,
am reminded, in this connection, of a story of an old Dutch
farmer, who remarked to a companion once that 'it was not
best to swap horses when crossing streams.'"
Lincoln, Remarks in Response to Lincoln's Nomination by
the National Union League (June 9, 1864)
2009, the respondent, Otis Rich, filed a petition for writ of
error coram nobis challenging the voluntariness of
his 2001 guilty plea to conspiracy to distribute marijuana.
In response to the petition, the State asserted that Mr.
Rich's claims were without merit and should be denied
without a hearing. The coram nobis court agreed with
the State, and denied Mr. Rich's petition without a
Mr. Rich appealed the decision to the Court of Special
Appeals, the State asserted for a second time that the record
of the 2001 plea hearing was sufficient to establish that the
guilty plea was knowing and voluntary. Moreover, the
State's primary argument on appeal was that Mr. Rich
waived the right to seek coram nobis relief by
failing to file an application for leave to appeal his 2001
guilty plea. Thus, the State urged the intermediate appellate
court to affirm the coram nobis court's denial
of Mr. Rich's petition without a hearing.
Rich's appeal was then delayed for five years, during
which time this Court decided State v. Smith, 443
Md. 572 (2015). In Smith, we held that a defendant
does not waive the right to seek coram nobis relief
by failing to file an application for leave to appeal a
guilty plea. Id. at 595. Following our decision in
Smith, the Court of Special Appeals lifted the stay
on Mr. Rich's appeal, and set the case for consideration
in March 2016. At no point after our decision in
Smith, or after the Court of Special Appeals lifted
the stay on Mr. Rich's appeal, did the State supplement
or amend its earlier arguments in its brief to account for
the evolution in coram nobis jurisprudence that had
occurred in the intervening five years since the State filed
its initial brief.
Court of Special Appeals decided Mr. Rich's appeal in
August 2016. The intermediate appellate court held, pursuant
to Smith, that Mr. Rich had not waived his coram
nobis claim by failing to file an application for leave
to appeal his 2001 guilty plea. On the merits of his claim,
the Court of Special Appeals determined, based on the record
of the 2001 plea hearing, that Mr. Rich's guilty plea was
not knowing and voluntary, and therefore the coram
nobis court erred by denying him relief based on this
ground. The Court of Special Appeals then remanded the case
for the coram nobis court to consider whether Mr.
Rich was suffering significant collateral consequences as a
result of his convictions.
the Court of Special Appeals' decision, the State filed a
motion for reconsideration in that court. In its motion, the
State argued, for the first time, that the record of the 2001
plea hearing was inadequate for the intermediate appellate
court to determine whether Mr. Rich's guilty plea was
knowing and voluntary. Thus, the State requested, midstream,
that the Court of Special Appeals order a remand for the
coram nobis court to conduct an evidentiary hearing
on the merits of Mr. Rich's claim. The Court of Special
Appeals denied the motion for reconsideration, and reissued
this Court, the State asks us to determine whether the Court
of Special Appeals erred by denying its motion for
reconsideration requesting a remand on the merits of Mr.
Rich's claim. For the reasons that follow, we hold that
the Court of Special Appeals did not abuse its discretion in
denying the motion, and therefore we affirm.
The Guilty Pleas
December 29, 1993, Mr. Rich pleaded guilty in the Circuit
Court for Baltimore City to possession with intent to
distribute a controlled dangerous substance. The circuit
court sentenced Mr. Rich to five years of incarceration, all
suspended, and eighteen months of supervised probation.
October 23, 2001, Mr. Rich pleaded guilty in the Circuit
Court for Baltimore City to possession with intent to
distribute marijuana and conspiracy to distribute marijuana.
The plea hearing took place simultaneously with the plea
hearing of another, wholly unrelated defendant named Michael
Thomas. At the hearing, Mr. Thomas' defense
attorney, Tom Kane, qualified both his client and Mr. Rich
prior to the circuit court accepting the guilty pleas. Mr.
Rich's defense attorney, John Denholm, said very little
at the hearing. After explaining to both defendants the
rights they were giving up by choosing to plead guilty, Mr.
Kane addressed the four potential grounds for appellate
review of a guilty plea:
MR. KANE: The fourth ground has a couple parts. One is
whether or not you understand the charge. Mr. Thomas and Mr.
Rich, you're both pleading guilty to possession kind of
offenses and possession can be either actual possession,
meaning it's on a part of you-in your pockets, holding it
in your hand like a pen-or constructive possession, meaning
that's in the vicinity of where you are, and you are
exercising dominion, meaning ownership, and control over it,
meaning that if somebody tried to take it, you could stop
them, such as my briefcase over on one of the chairs. I'm
not touching it in any way, but I'm in constructive
possession of that.
Possessing it with the intent to distribute it means
you're having the intent to transfer that possession from
you to somebody else. That could be giving it away, it could
be selling it, as long as the possession transfers. There
doesn't have to be any money involved. A gift is a
transfer of possession. So that's the possessing it with
the intent to give it to somebody else, as opposed to use it
all for yourself.
And, Mr. Rich, you understand you're charged with
marijuana and that's another one of those substances that
the Legislature says you can't have?
MR. RICH: Yes.
MR. KANE: Is there anything about the charge of possessing it
with the intent to distribute it that you don't
MR. RICH: No. Neither Mr. Kane nor Mr. Denholm explained to
Mr. Rich, at the plea hearing, the nature of the charge of
conspiracy to distribute marijuana.
After the circuit court found that Mr. Rich's guilty plea
was knowing and voluntary, the prosecutor read into the
record the statement of facts supporting his plea:
During the course of their observations, the officers
observed approximately eight times where persons would hand
United States currency to both Mr. Cook and Mr. Rich. The
money would be collected on every occasion, and on every
occasion, Mr. Cook and Mr. Rich would respond northbound from
their location to a house which was later found to be 825
North Collington Avenue, a vacant house. Both were observed
to reach into the front window of the house and respond back
to the location of the person who would surrender currency to
them. Mr. Cook and Mr. Rich were observed to hand unknown
objects to these persons, who would accept the objects and
walk out of the area.
During the course of those observations, Mr. Armistead was
observed to be standing with both Mr. Cook and Mr. Rich, and
was observed to approach a late-model black Ford pickup
truck, who pulled to the side of the street. . . .
Through the information that was received, the observations
made, and the actions of Mr. Cook, Mr. Rich, and Mr.
Armistead, the officers believed that all three were working
together to sell narcotics in the block and were keeping the
narcotics in the vacant house at 825 North Collington Avenue.
on this statement of facts, the circuit court found Mr. Rich
guilty of possession with intent to distribute marijuana and
conspiracy to distribute marijuana. The court sentenced Mr.
Rich to three years of incarceration, all suspended, and
three years of supervised probation.
April 19, 2002, Mr. Rich pleaded guilty in the Circuit Court
for Baltimore City to second-degree assault. The circuit