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Rothe v. State

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

August 2, 2019

WAYNE ROTHE
v.
STATE OF MARYLAND

          Circuit Court for Baltimore City Case No. 118120008

          Meredith, Gould, Moylan, Charles E., Jr. (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.

          OPINION

          MOYLAN, J.

         Like a troubled spirit adrift on Walpurgis Night, an almost forgotten relic of long repudiated caselaw eerily resurfaces to haunt the convictions of the appellant, Wayne Rothe, for second-degree and fourth-degree burglary, for the malicious destruction of property, and for theft in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City by a jury, presided over by Judge Althea M. Handy. This holding should lay to rest that misbegotten ghost.

         The Contentions

         On this appeal, the appellant raised two contentions. He claims

1. that the State's evidence was legally insufficient to sustain the convictions, and
2. that Judge Handy erroneously imposed separate sentences for second-degree burglary and for the malicious destruction of property.

         An Unadorned Motion For Judgment

         The only significant one of those contentions is that the State's evidence was not legally sufficient to support the convictions. We hold, on the contrary, that it was abundantly sufficient. At the end of the State's case (which was also the end of the entire case), the appellant's Motion for Judgment of Acquittal was unenlightening. The argument was baldly conclusory.

Your Honor, at this time I'll make a motion for judgment of acquittal. I'll submit on argument, it's really based on credibility on Mr. Dowling the way I see it.
THE COURT: Right.
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: It's a circumstantial case but it's still, you know, based on his credibility. So I'll submit on argument other than that.
THE COURT: Okay. I'll deny your motion then.

(Emphasis supplied).

         Overwhelmingly Sufficient Evidence Of Guilt

         Not a word was said to substantiate that challenge to the witness's credibility. The trial itself had been equally uneventful. The burglary and theft victim, Michael Shawn Dowling, lived at 2132 Maisel Street in Baltimore City. He rented a garage at the rear of that property from his neighbor, Joel Navarro. He regularly kept the garage locked and he kept some valuable tools inside the garage, including 1) a large black toolbox with between $300 and $400 worth of tools in it; 2) a pressure washer; and 3) a generator. Mr. Dowling and the appellant were well acquainted with each other. The appellant lived in a "pop-up camper," which Mr. Dowling permitted him to park in his driveway at 2132 Maisel Street.

         The burglary occurred on March 8, 2018, in the mid-afternoon. At approximately 2:30 p.m., Mr. Dowling went to pick up his daughter from school. Along the way, he saw the appellant walking up Hollins Ferry Road. They chatted briefly. The appellant asked Mr. Dowling where he was going. Mr. Dowling explained that he was on his way to pick up his daughter at school. When Mr. Dowling returned home with his daughter at approximately 3:30 p.m., he noticed that the door to his garage had been kicked in. The lock at the bottom was gone. All of Mr. Dowling's tools, moreover, were missing.

         That testimony would have placed the burglary within the hour of 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Actually, the time frame was tighter than that. Detective James Frauenhoffer of the Baltimore City Police Department was assigned to the Regional Auto Theft Task Force. He was aware of an outstanding arrest warrant for the appellant. On March 8, 2018, at about 3:00 p.m., he received a phone call from someone at the Real Scrap scrapyard, indicating that the appellant was then at that location. Detective Frauenhoffer immediately responded. Real Scrap was just about a block away from 2132 Maisel Street. Detective Frauenhoffer explained the nature of the scrapyard business:

THE WITNESS: Scrap yards take metal and they purchase it from people when they deliver to the location, again, it could be any type of metal, roofing material, tools, cars, half cars, anything, but they take it there to drop off so they can receive money for the weight of metal.

         When the appellant saw Detective Frauenhoffer approaching, he turned and ran. A foot chase by several Baltimore City and Baltimore County officers through some nearby heavily wooded areas followed, ultimately ending after the appellant and one of the pursuing officers fell together into a stream. The appellant had brought to Real Scrap and Detective Frauenhoffer recovered all of the property that had shortly before been taken from Mr. Dowling's garage. The property was subsequently identified by Mr. Dowling. At Mr. Dowling's, Detective Frauenhoffer also noted where the garage door had been kicked in.

         Kucharczyk's Attack On Legal Sufficiency

         The appellant did not take the stand, nor did he offer any witnesses or other evidence. He never so much as offered an explanation to the police as to what he was doing at Real Scrap with Mr. Dowling's property. It is difficult to imagine a burglary and theft case more open and shut than this. It was at this point in the analysis that the ghost of Kucharczyk v. State, 235 Md. 334, 201 A.2d 683 (1964), was invoked in the appellant's brief. The challenge was to the legal sufficiency of the evidence, as a matter of law.

The evidence is insufficient to sustain the convictions. The State's circumstantial case relied entirely on Mr. [D]owling's claim that the garage had been broken into and that appellant did not have his permission to enter the garage and take the items. However, Mr. [D]owling's testimony was inherently incredible, and was therefore insufficient. See Kucharczyk v. State, 235 Md. 334, 337 (1964).

(Emphasis supplied).

         It is here that we encounter, as legions of cases have encountered over the past 55 years, the massive disconnect between the case of Kucharczyk v. State, with its microscopically narrow holding that has never been repeated, and the so-called Kucharczyk Doctrine, a bloated attack on the legal sufficiency of evidence generally and based ostensibly on the Kucharczyk case. In the actual case, the State's entire case of guilt had consisted of the uncorroborated testimony of a single witness whose testimony was rent by unresolved contradictions about the very happening of the crime itself. The issue was not credibility per se. It was rather the utter absence of any plausible assertion that the crime had even taken place.

         In the years since 1964, however, the defense bar has created a wildly exaggerated Kucharczyk Doctrine that has taken on a mythic life of its own. The doctrinal mantra is that any significant attack on the credibility of a State's witness will serve to exclude that witness's testimony from evidence and thereby erode the legal sufficiency of the State's case by diminishing it to nothing. In his brief, albeit not before Judge Handy, the appellant argued that Mr. Dowling's testimony was subject to such exclusion by virtue of various "inconsistencies, weaknesses, and deficiencies," and, therefore, could not be relied upon to prove the appellant's guilt. The appellant argued:

After purportedly finding the garage door kicked in, Mr. Dowling did not call the police on March 8. He testified, however, that within an hour, that same day, the police went to his home. Detective Frauenhoffer, on the other hand, testified that he had tried, "with negative results," to contact Mr. Dowling on March 8, and was only able to speak with Mr. Dowling the next day, March 9. Additionally, Mr. Dowling testified that he never gave appellant permission to enter the garage. But he also told police that the camper in which appellant was staying obtained electricity from an electrical outlet in the garage. In the face of all these inconsistencies, weaknesses, and deficiencies, Mr. Dowling's testimony cannot be relied on to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that appellant broke into the garage and took the tools without Mr. Dowling's own involvement and permission. As such, reversal is required.

(Emphasis supplied).

         Kucharczyk v. State, however, never held any such thing and the so-called Kucharczyk Doctrine, of course, has no provenance beyond Kucharczyk v. State itself. The heart of the problem has become one not of dealing with the Kucharczyk case itself but with its post-Kucharczyk mantra. The so-called Kucharczyk Doctrine has never actually prevailed, but its ...


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