Circuit Court for Baltimore City Case No. 000104002009
Meredith, Friedman, Beachley, JJ.
case concerns post-conviction proceedings following appellee
Christopher Mann's convictions in the Circuit Court for
Baltimore City. There, following a five-day jury trial which
concluded on August 12, 2004, the jury convicted Mann of
felony murder, kidnapping, and conspiracy to commit
kidnapping. A panel of this Court affirmed Mann's
convictions on direct appeal. Mann v. State, No.
1895, Sept. Term 2004 (filed Jan. 12, 2007). Mann
subsequently filed a petition for post-conviction relief. In
an order dated February 13, 2018, the post-conviction court
granted Mann's motion and ordered a new trial on the
basis that Mann's trial counsel rendered ineffective
assistance by failing to request an alibi jury instruction.
The State successfully applied for leave to appeal, and
presents the following issue for our review:
Did the [post-conviction] court err when it found that
defense counsel had been constitutionally ineffective for
failing to request a superfluous jury instruction?
perceive no error and affirm.
the underlying facts of this case were fully developed in
Mann's direct appeal and are not in dispute, we provide
only a brief recitation for background. On April 22, 2004,
between 7:00 p.m. and midnight, Ricky Prince was murdered.
The State's theory of the case was that Mann and an
accomplice kidnapped and murdered Prince in retaliation for
Prince's cooperation with police and prosecutors in two
other criminal prosecutions. At trial, Mann called four
"alibi" witnesses who testified to his whereabouts
on April 22, 2004, in an effort to show that he was not
present when Prince was kidnapped and murdered. Despite the
fact that four alibi witnesses testified in Mann's
defense, Mann's trial counsel did not request an alibi
jury instruction. As stated above, the jury convicted Mann of
felony murder, kidnapping, and conspiracy to commit
kidnapping. The court sentenced Mann to life imprisonment for
felony murder, and twenty years consecutive for conspiracy to
post-conviction petition, Mann alleged, among other things,
that his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance of
counsel by failing to request an alibi jury
instruction. At the hearing on Mann's
post-conviction petition, Mann's trial counsel conceded
that there was no reason not to request the alibi
instruction. Indeed, as the State concedes in its brief,
"there is no dispute of material fact. [Mann's]
counsel simply overlooked requesting the 'alibi' jury
instruction, notwithstanding his presentation of an alibi
defense." As noted, the post-conviction court found that
trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to
request an alibi instruction and ordered a new trial.
review of a postconviction court's findings regarding
ineffective assistance of counsel is a mixed question of law
and fact." Newton v. State, 455 Md. 341, 351
(2017) (citing Harris v. State, 303 Md. 685, 698
(1985)). Because appellate courts do not make findings of
fact, "we defer to the factual findings of the
postconviction court unless clearly erroneous."
Id. "But we review the [post-conviction]
court's legal conclusion regarding whether the
defendant's Sixth Amendment rights were violated without
deference." Id. at 351-52.
Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article
21 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights guarantee all
criminal defendants the right to the effective assistance of
counsel. Duvall v. State, 399 Md. 210, 220-21
(2007). In order for a criminal defendant to successfully
vacate his conviction on this basis, he must satisfy a
two-prong test established in the landmark Supreme Court case
Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984).
The two-part test is as follows:
First, the defendant must show that counsel's performance
was deficient. This requires showing that counsel made errors
so serious that counsel was not functioning as the
"counsel" guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth
Amendment. Second, the defendant must show that the deficient
performance prejudiced the defense. This requires showing
that counsel's errors were so serious as to deprive the
defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable.
Unless a defendant makes both showings, it cannot be said
that the conviction . . . resulted from a breakdown in the
adversary process that renders the result unreliable.
Id. As we shall explain, the post-conviction court
correctly determined that Mann's counsel rendered
deficient performance, and because this deficient performance
prejudiced Mann's defense, the result of Mann's trial
outset, we note that Maryland Rule 4-325(c) states that
"The court may, and at the request of any party shall,
instruct the jury as to the applicable law and the extent to
which the instructions are binding." Regarding when the
court must instruct the jury as to the applicable law, the
Court of Appeals has held that "[a] requested jury
instruction is applicable if the evidence is sufficient to
permit a jury to find its factual predicate."
Bazzle v. State, 426 Md. 541, 550 (2012).
As to the burden of establishing that predicate, "the
threshold is low, as a defendant needs only to produce
'some evidence' that supports the requested
instruction[.]" Id. at 551.
In assessing Strickland's deficiency prong, the
Court of Appeals has stated that the proper standard for
attorney performance is that of reasonably effective
assistance. "Prevailing professional norms" define
what constitutes reasonably effective assistance, and all of
the circumstances surrounding counsel's performance must
be considered. Because it is "tempting" for both a
defendant and a court to second-guess a counsel's conduct
after conviction, courts must be "highly
deferential" when they scrutinize counsel's
performance. Reviewing courts must thus assume, until proven
otherwise, that counsel's conduct fell within a ...