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Harding v. State

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

December 21, 2017

TRAVIS HARDING
v.
STATE OF MARYLAND

         Circuit Court for Baltimore County Case No.: 03-K-14-002783

          Meredith, Leahy, Sharer, J. Frederick (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.

          OPINION

          Meredith, J.

         Travis Harding, appellant, was charged with two counts of second-degree assault. On the date set for trial in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County, Harding entered an Alford plea to one count of second-degree assault.[1] He was sentenced to incarceration for a term of five years, with all but time served suspended. Within ten days after sentencing, Harding filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea and motion for new trial, both of which were summarily denied without a hearing. Thereafter, Harding filed an application for leave to appeal. We granted leave to appeal, and transferred the case to the regular docket.

         QUESTIONS PRESENTED

         Harding presents the following three questions for our consideration:

I. Did the trial court err in accepting Harding's plea of guilty to second-degree assault where the record shows that neither the court, the prosecutor, nor defense counsel explained on the record the elements of second-degree assault and neither Harding nor defense counsel represented that Harding had been informed by counsel of the elements of second-degree assault?
II. Did the trial court err in denying Harding's motion to withdraw the guilty plea and motion for new trial?
III. Did the trial court err in failing either to order a competency evaluation or conduct an inquiry of Harding to determine whether he was competent to plead guilty before accepting his guilty plea?

         Because the circuit court erred by ruling on Harding's motion to withdraw his guilty plea without granting him the hearing that is required by Maryland Rule 4-242(h), we shall remand this case for further proceedings.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         On the morning the case was scheduled for trial, counsel for Harding told the trial judge that Harding was refusing to speak to him. The trial judge informed Harding that he had been "charged with two counts of second-degree assault under Maryland law, " and asked, among other things, if he was unhappy with his counsel or wished to proceed to trial with counsel. Harding's initial response was: "I want a postponement. . . . I like it in jail. . . . I do good in jail. . . . I do good with the people I'm with right now."

         But Harding subsequently confirmed that he did not wish to fire defense counsel, and he agreed to speak to defense counsel regarding the State's offer to resolve both second-degree assault charges by "recommending a disposition of some sentence suspending all but time served, " which would result in Harding's prompt release from the county detention center.

         After a recess to allow for that discussion, the parties returned to the courtroom and advised the judge that Harding wished to enter "a plea of guilt [sic] by way of an Alford plea[.]" The prosecutor explained that, upon a finding that Harding was guilty of the second-degree assault of his wife, the State would nol pros the remaining count of second-degree assault. The State asked for "a split sentence, generally suspending all but time served, " but also the entry of an order that Harding have no contact with the victim, and that the file be marked as domestically related.

         During a brief discussion at the bench with counsel, at which Harding was not present, the trial judge asked defense counsel: "Is he okay?" Counsel replied: "I think so. I think he's competent." But the prosecutor then noted that he had observed some unusual conduct on Harding's part during a hearing on a protective order: "[Harding] said something like, 'If I can't see my kids, I just want to die.' . . . They said they had him on suicide watch."

         Thereafter, the trial judge questioned Harding in open court, and confirmed that he was 40 years old, had some college education, and had served in the military. The judge reviewed the nature of an Alford plea, which the judge described as not admitting guilt but conceding that "there's sufficient evidence if believed that can be adduced by the State that would permit somebody to find me guilty." The judge described a jury trial and the requirement of a unanimous verdict. And the ...


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