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State v. Thomas

Court of Appeals of Maryland

August 9, 2019

STATE of Maryland
v.
Philip Daniel THOMAS

Page 133

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 134

          Circuit Court for Wicomico County, Case No. 22-K-16-000031. W. Newton Jackson, III, Judge

         Argued by Andrew J. DiMiceli, Asst. Atty. Gen. (Jer Welter, Asst. Atty. Gen. and Brian E. Frosh, Atty. Gen. of Maryland of Baltimore, MD), on brief, for Petitioner.

         Argued by Michael R. Braudes, Asst. Public Defender (Paul B. DeWolfe, Public Defender of Maryland of Baltimore, MD), on brief, for Respondent.

         Argued before: Barbera, C.J.,[*] Greene, McDonald, Watts, Hotten, Getty, Booth, JJ.

          OPINION

         McDonald, J.

Page 135

          [465 Md. 291] On occasion, a court may be called upon to resentence a defendant in a criminal case after an appeal. This can happen when a conviction is overturned on appeal and the defendant is again convicted following remand, or when a conviction is upheld but the initial sentence is determined to be illegal. In both instances, the defendant must be sentenced again. A State statute limits the sentencing court’s discretion in those circumstances. In general, a circuit court ordinarily may not impose a "more severe" sentence on remand following an appeal.

          Respondent Philip Daniel Thomas was convicted of several crimes in the Circuit Court for Wicomico County. He received an aggregate sentence of 18 years in prison - 15 years for kidnapping, and three years consecutive for second-degree [465 Md. 292] assault. On direct appeal the Court of Special Appeals vacated the sentence, ruling that the kidnapping and assault convictions should have merged for sentencing purposes. On remand, the Circuit Court resentenced Mr. Thomas to 18 years in prison for the kidnapping offense alone.

          Although the new sentence was identical to the original sentence in terms of the maximum duration of confinement, the parole eligibility date under the new sentence was different. Under his original sentence, Mr. Thomas would have been eligible for parole after seven and one-half years; under the new sentence, he would not become eligible for parole until he had served nine years in prison.

          Another appeal ensued, and the Court of Special Appeals held that his new sentence was illegal as "more severe" than his original sentence. We agree with the Court of Special Appeals that two sentences of equal maximum length but with different parole eligibility dates are not equivalent to one another. The sentence with the later parole eligibility date is more severe than the other.

          I

          Background

          A. Statutory Provisions concerning Punishment for Criminal Offenses

          The General Assembly sets general State policy on punishment for criminal offenses in various statutes. For example, statutes set forth the penalty that a court may impose for specific offenses, specify maximum and minimum sentences, limit a sentencing court’s discretion in certain respects, and establish minimum periods of confinement before a defendant becomes eligible for release on parole. This case involves two such statutes: (1) a statute that limits the discretion of a sentencing court when a defendant is to be resentenced following a successful appeal and (2) a statute that sets a defendant’s eligibility for release on parole from imprisonment for certain offenses.

         [465 Md. 293] 1. A Limit on Resentencing - CJ § 12-702(b)

         If a conviction is reversed on appeal and the defendant is convicted again, or if a sentence is overturned on appeal, the defendant will need to be resentenced. A State statute limits the sentencing court’s discretion in those circumstances. That statute provides:

If an appellate court remands a criminal case to a lower court in order that the lower court may pronounce the proper judgment or sentence, or conduct a new trial, and if there is a conviction following this new trial, the lower court may impose any sentence authorized by law to be imposed as punishment for the offense. However, it may not impose a sentence more severe than the sentence

Page 136

previously imposed for the offense unless:
(1) The reasons for the increased sentence affirmatively appear;
(2) The reasons are based upon additional objective information concerning identifiable conduct on the part of the defendant; and
(3) The factual data upon which the increased sentence is based appears as part of the record.

Maryland Code, Courts & Judicial Proceedings Article ("CJ"), § 12-702(b) (emphasis added). Thus, a court may not impose a "more severe" sentence on remand unless the three statutory criteria are met.

          2. Eligibility for Release from Imprisonment on Parole

         The General Assembly has established different minimum periods of imprisonment before a criminal defendant sentenced to a term of imprisonment is eligible for release on parole, depending on the offenses for which the defendant has been convicted. A defendant is ordinarily eligible for parole after serving one-fourth of the defendant’s aggregate sentence. Maryland Code, Correctional Services Article ("CS"), § 7-301(b)(1). A defendant convicted of a violent crime, however, is not eligible for parole until the defendant has served "the greater of" (1) one-half of the defendant’s aggregate [465 Md. 294] sentence for violent crimes or (2) one-fourth of the defendant’s total aggregate sentence. CS § 7-301(c). Other statutory provisions not pertinent to this case establish other constraints on an inmate’s eligibility for parole. E.g., Maryland Code, Criminal Law Article, § 14-101(c)-(f); see also Carter v. State, 461 Md. 295, 318-22, 192 A.3d 695 (2018).

         This case concerns whether parole eligibility established by statute for a particular sentence is a factor in assessing whether one sentence is "more severe" than another for purposes of CJ § 12-702(b).

          B. ...


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