Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

State v. Mann

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

May 1, 2019

STATE OF MARYLAND
v.
CHRISTOPHER MANN

          Circuit Court for Baltimore City Case No. 000104002009

          Meredith, Friedman, Beachley, JJ.

          OPINION

          BEACHLEY, J.

         This 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?

         We perceive no error and affirm.

         BACKGROUND

         Because 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 commit kidnapping.[1]

         In his 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.[2] 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.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         "The 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.

         DISCUSSION

         The 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 is unreliable.

         I. Deficient Performance

         At the 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 ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.