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State v. Christian

Court of Appeals of Maryland

May 17, 2019

STATE OF MARYLAND
v.
MARK EDMUND CHRISTIAN, II

          Argued: April 8, 2019

          Circuit Court for Harford County Case No. 12-K-11-000887

          Barbera, C.J. Greene McDonald Watts Hotten Getty Raker, Irma S., (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned) JJ.

          OPINION

          Barbera, C.J.

         Petitioner, the State of Maryland, challenges the Court of Special Appeals' decision affirming postconviction relief for Respondent, Mark Edmund Christian, II. Before oral argument in this matter, the State filed a Motion to Correct the Record, which, if granted, would resolve the merits of the State's appeal by eliminating the sole ground for Christian's postconviction relief. Because the record lacks the factual determinations necessary to rule on the State's motion and, in turn, the merits of its argument before this Court, we vacate the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals with instructions to remand the case to the postconviction court for further fact finding.[1]

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         A. The Underlying Convictions

         In March 2012, a jury convicted Respondent Christian of first degree murder, attempted armed robbery, conspiracy to commit armed robbery, and use of a handgun in the commission of a felony or crime of violence. The judge who presided over the trial in the Circuit Court for Harford County sentenced Christian to life plus 30 years' incarceration. The Court of Special Appeals affirmed the convictions, and we subsequently denied Christian's petition for writ of certiorari. Christian v. State (Christian I), No. 636, 2012 Term (Md. Ct. Spec. App. June 4, 2013), cert. denied, 434 Md. 312 (2013).

         B. Postconviction Relief

         In January 2016, Christian filed a petition for postconviction relief in the Circuit Court for Harford County. He raised several claims of ineffectiveness of trial counsel, only one of which is before us: whether trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance, in contravention of the Sixth Amendment, by failing to object to an unconstitutional Unger instruction.[2]According to the trial transcript from February 29, 2012, the trial judge instructed the jury, "Since this is a criminal case, you are judges, judges of both the law and the facts." (Emphasis added). In March 2017, the postconviction court granted Christian's petition, finding that trial counsel provided deficient assistance by not objecting to a blatantly improper jury instruction, and ordered a new trial.

         The State filed an Application for Leave to Appeal ("ALA") in the Court of Special Appeals. While the application was pending, the State filed in the circuit court a Motion to Reconsider Post-Conviction Relief, requesting an evidentiary hearing. In its motion, the State asserted that the trial judge never gave the improper jury instruction and was prepared to testify to that fact. The postconviction court denied the motion, ruling that it lacked jurisdiction given the State's pending appeal. The court suggested, however, that the State could "seek leave to correct the record" on appeal.

         Meanwhile, the Court of Special Appeals granted the ALA and transferred the case to the court's regular docket. The intermediate appellate court affirmed the order granting Christian postconviction relief based on the unconstitutional Unger instruction. State v. Christian (Christian II), No. 392, 2017 Term, slip op. at 14 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. Oct. 26, 2018). The Court of Special Appeals also upheld the postconviction court's denial of the State's motion for reconsideration. Id. at 23. The intermediate appellate court held that under Maryland Rule 8-414, it had no legal basis to correct the record because the State had not produced an affidavit stating that "the language in the transcript is incorrect." Id. at 22-23. C. The Pending Motion

         In February 2019, we issued a writ of certiorari granting the State's request for further review. State v. Christian, 462 Md. 555 (2019). Prior to oral argument, the State filed a Motion to Correct the Record pursuant to Maryland Rule 8-414, asking this Court to "strike the offending language appearing in the February 29, 2012 transcript of Christian's trial." With its motion, the State filed an affidavit from the judge who presided over Christian's trial. In that affidavit, the trial judge asserted that "none of the Unger type language was used at all" in Christian's trial. Instead, the judge averred that "the Court Reporter . . . had not been transcribing all of the prefatory, boiler-plate [i]nstructions as I read them but rather used an old template that included this questionable language." Christian opposed the motion as untimely and prejudicial.

         II. ...


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