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State v. Bratt

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

May 30, 2019

STATE OF MARYLAND
v.
LARRY DANIEL BRATT

          Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County Case No. 02-K-99-000032

          Fader, C.J., Meredith, Raker, Irma S. (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.

          OPINION

          Fader, C.J.

         In 2018, the appellee, Larry Daniel Bratt, filed a motion to correct an illegal sentence in which he argued that his sentence was illegal because he had not received the full amount of credit for time during which he was incarcerated before his conviction. The appellant, the State of Maryland, contends that the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County erred when it granted that motion, struck Mr. Bratt's then-existing sentence, and resentenced him.

         Our resolution of that claim centers on the effect, if any, of the circuit court's 2017 amendment of Mr. Bratt's commitment record-made at Mr. Bratt's request-to reflect the full amount of credit to which he was entitled. Mr. Bratt concedes that the 2017 amendment gave him all the credit to which he was entitled, but contends that the amendment was of no force or effect because it was accomplished without first providing him a hearing. The State argues that the 2017 amendment was valid, that no hearing was required to accomplish it, and, therefore, that Mr. Bratt's sentence was legal at the time he filed his motion in 2018 and so could not be "corrected."

         Notably, both parties are in complete agreement that Mr. Bratt's current sentence, which is identical to the sentence that was on the books following the 2017 amendment, is legal and correct. The terms of Mr. Bratt's current sentence thus do not hang on our decision here. Instead, the real consequence of our decision is whether Mr. Bratt will receive a new opportunity to seek a modification of that sentence. Rule 4-345(e) allows a defendant to file a motion seeking modification of a sentence "within 90 days after imposition of a sentence." Mr. Bratt filed such a motion within 90 days of the court resentencing him. If Mr. Bratt is correct that his sentence at the time he filed his 2018 motion was illegal, that means the court was correct to strike it and impose a new sentence, his motion for modification was timely, and the court may consider it. If the State is correct that the sentence as it stood in 2018 was legal, then there was no basis for striking it and the motion for modification must be denied as untimely. Either way, Mr. Bratt's current sentence, for all practical purposes, stays the same.

         We conclude that the 2017 amendment was effective and that Mr. Bratt's sentence was legal at the time he filed his motion in 2018. We will therefore reverse.

         BACKGROUND

         On August 8, 1983, a jury sitting in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County found Mr. Bratt guilty of two counts of first degree murder. That same day, the court sentenced Mr. Bratt to two life sentences to be served consecutively. This Court affirmed the conviction. Bratt v. State, 62 Md.App. 535 (1985). The facts supporting Mr. Bratt's conviction, which are irrelevant to our disposition here, are recited in this Court's opinion on Mr. Bratt's direct appeal. See id.

         In 1992, Mr. Bratt wrote a letter to the trial judge in which he requested credit for pretrial incarceration for (1) ten months served at the Anne Arundel County Detention Center and (2) three months served at the Dekalb County Jail in Georgia. Mr. Bratt claimed to have been "locked up on July 16, 1982," but provided no supporting documentation. He further asked the court to modify his two life sentences from consecutive to concurrent terms. The court denied his request.

         In 1995, the Maryland Division of Corrections sent a letter to the trial judge in which it (1) identified that Mr. Bratt had been detained at the Anne Arundel County Detention Center before his conviction, beginning on October 26, 1982, and (2) asked whether the court intended his sentence to be imposed beginning on that date, rather than on the date of sentencing. In response, the court issued an order stating: "After reviewing the file, the Court determines that Larry Bratt, under Art. 27 § 638C, is entitled to credit for time served in custody prior to the conviction. Thus, the sentence will run from the time of incarceration in the Anne Arundel County Detention Center on 10/26/82." On September 13, 1995, a new commitment record was entered reflecting the October 26, 1982 commencement date.

         Over the ensuing years, Mr. Bratt raised multiple challenges to his sentence.[1] Most relevant to this appeal are his two most recent, both of which asked the circuit court to change the start date for his first sentence from October 26, 1982 to July 16 of that year. First, in October 2017, Mr. Bratt filed a Petition for Pre-Trial Incarceration Credit and Correction of Commitment Record (the "2017 Petition for Credit"), in which he asserted that he was incarcerated for 102 days in Georgia before being transferred to Anne Arundel County and requested that the court award him credit against his sentence by "issu[ing] an Amended Commitment Record indicating that [his] sentence" began on July 16, 1982. In the motion, Mr. Bratt requested a hearing "pursuant to Rule 4-345(f)."

         The State did not oppose the relief requested in the 2017 Petition for Credit, but asked the court to grant it "without a hearing." On November 3, 2017, without a hearing, the circuit court granted the petition and ordered the clerk to issue an amended commitment record "indicating that Petitioner's sentence commence as of 16 July 1982." The clerk then issued an amended commitment record stating that "[t]he Defendant's Commitment is to have a commencement date of July 16, 1982." We refer to that change as the 2017 Amendment.

         Second, in January 2018, Mr. Bratt filed a Motion to Correct Illegal Sentence (the "2018 Motion to Correct"). In the 2018 Motion to Correct, Mr. Bratt recited that he had requested a hearing in the 2017 Petition for Credit but did not receive one. As a result of that failure, he claimed, (1) the 2017 Amendment was "of no legal force or effect," and, therefore, (2) his original sentence, which had been imposed without affording him full credit for time served, was still in effect and illegal. The court held a hearing on the motion, during which the State and Mr. Bratt agreed that he was entitled to 102 days' credit for time served in Georgia and that the proper start date of his sentence was July 16, 1982. The State, however, argued that Mr. Bratt had received all the relief he was entitled to in 2017 and, therefore, that his then-current sentence was lawful.

          At the conclusion of the hearing, the court granted Mr. Bratt's 2018 Motion to Correct. In its oral ruling and as reflected in a written order entered the same day, the court: (1) agreed with Mr. Bratt that the 2017 Amendment "was not sufficient to correct the illegal sentence as a hearing in open court was required"; and (2) concluded, therefore, that Mr. Bratt's sentence was then illegal because he was "currently serving two consecutive life sentences PLUS 102 days for two counts of first degree murder when the maximum sentence allowed by law would be two consecutive life sentences." As a result, in open court, the court struck the existing sentence and resentenced Mr. Bratt to "life in prison" on the first count, to begin on July 16, 1982, and a ...


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