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Rainey v. State

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

April 2, 2018

J. REUBEN RAINEY
v.
STATE OF MARYLAND

          Circuit Court for Baltimore City Case No. 18626016

          Woodward, C.J., Beachley, Fader, JJ.

          OPINION

          Fader, J.

          In 1987, a jury convicted the appellant, J. Reuben Rainey, of murdering two women. Now, based on a mistaken docket entry that has since been corrected, he claims that the sentences for his first-degree murder convictions are illegal. The Circuit Court for Baltimore City denied his motion to correct an illegal sentence. We affirm for two independent reasons: (1) the basis of the illegality claimed by Mr. Rainey is not cognizable under Rule 4-345(a), the rule under which Mr. Rainey is proceeding; and (2) we perceive no error in the circuit court's factual finding that the original docket entry was erroneous.

         BACKGROUND

         Mr. Rainey's claim centers on a docket entry created during the first of his three 1987 jury trials in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. The charges then pending against Mr. Rainey included two counts of first-degree murder; two counts of second-degree murder; two counts of manslaughter; two counts of use of a handgun in the commission of a crime of violence; and two counts of wearing, carrying, or transporting a handgun. The docket entry at issue, dated April 20, 1987, states in full:

4/20/87- Motion for judgement of acquittal heard as to both charges and denied as to both charges. Davis J. Motion for judgement of acquittal granted as to 2nd degree and manslaughter as to both charges. Davis J.

         Mr. Rainey's trial proceeded on the first-degree murder and handgun offenses, but ultimately ended in a mistrial two days later, as the jurors were unable to come to a unanimous verdict. A second trial on the remaining charges also ended in a mistrial. In his third trial, a jury convicted Mr. Rainey of both counts of first-degree murder and both sets of handgun offenses. The court sentenced Mr. Rainey to life imprisonment for each murder count, 20 years' imprisonment for each use of a handgun count, and three years' imprisonment for the unlawful wearing, carrying, or transporting a handgun counts, all consecutive.[1]

         In 2011, Mr. Rainey filed a pro se motion to correct an illegal sentence in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City.[2] On the strength of the April 20, 1987 docket entry, Mr. Rainey claimed that he was acquitted of the lesser-included offenses of second-degree murder and manslaughter, thus rendering his subsequent trials and convictions for first-degree murder a violation of the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The circuit court denied Mr. Rainey's motion, and Mr. Rainey timely appealed. After Mr. Rainey, still proceeding pro se, filed his opening brief, the State moved to remand, without affirmance or reversal, to allow the circuit court to conduct fact-finding regarding the docket entry at issue. We granted that motion. Due to the absence of a transcript, we instructed the circuit court, on remand, to hold a hearing, receive evidence, and make factual findings concerning whether the circuit court had in fact granted Mr. Rainey's motion for judgment of acquittal on the charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter. We stayed the present case until the completion of that fact-finding.

          On remand, the circuit court, Judge Yvette M. Bryant, held an evidentiary hearing at which both of the original prosecutors and Mr. Rainey all testified.[3] The lead prosecutor, Sam Brave, testified regarding the events that surrounded Mr. Rainey's motion for acquittal during the first trial. Mr. Brave testified that he recalled that Mr. Rainey's counsel moved for acquittal on all charges and that the trial court, Judge Arrie Davis, denied that motion as to all charges. Following that denial, Mr. Brave testified, he informed Judge Davis that the State wanted to submit only the first-degree murder charges to the jury, not the second-degree murder and manslaughter charges. He did so to avoid providing the jury with the option of reaching a compromise verdict.

         Mr. Rainey testified that he recalled being told by his defense counsel during the first trial that he had been acquitted. In the course of explaining his recollection, however, Mr. Rainey also testified, inaccurately, that the second-degree murder and manslaughter charges were included on the verdict sheet and submitted to the jury, and that he recalled being told of his alleged acquittal only after that occurred.

         After the hearing, Judge Bryant made a finding of fact that Mr. Rainey "was not acquitted of second degree murder and manslaughter and that the clerk's entry of April 20, 1987 regarding the judgments of acquittal [was] erroneous." That finding was based both on the testimony of the witnesses and on the behavior of all parties and the court throughout the remainder of the first trial, the two subsequent trials, and the direct appeal. As Judge Bryant pointed out, it would have been highly unlikely that an experienced trial judge, experienced defense counsel, two experienced prosecutors, and appellate counsel on both sides would all have failed to recognize the significance of a judgment of acquittal on lesser-included offenses through three trials and an appeal.

         On April 28, 2017, the circuit court's docket was corrected with an entry reflecting the court's finding that Mr. "RAINEY WAS NOT ACQUITTED OF SECOND DEGREE MURDER AND MANSLAUGHTER ON 4/20/1987." This Court then lifted its stay and directed the circuit court to transmit updated docket entries.

         In its response brief, filed after this Court lifted its stay, the State relies on the circuit court's finding that the motion for acquittal was not granted as dispositive. In reply, Mr. Rainey, now represented by counsel, argues that the ...


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