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Byrd v. State

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

December 19, 2019


          Circuit Court for Baltimore City Case Nos. 110085017, 110235023

          Wright, Shaw Geter, Salmon, James P. (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.


          SALMON, J.

         The appellant, Dale K. Byrd ("Byrd"), on March 11, 2011, pleaded guilty, in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, to possession of heroin with the intent to distribute in two separate cases. In the first case (No. 110085017), the State proffered to the plea judge that on March 19, 2010 Baltimore City police officers observed Byrd exchanging money for suspected drugs on the porch of a vacant house. Three gel caps of heroin were found on the porch of that house and seventy-five gel caps of heroin were found in another vacant house that Byrd was seen entering and exiting. In that case, Baltimore City Police Detective Daniel Hersl ("Hersl") was one of the observing officers and was also the officer who swore out the statement of charges that were filed against Byrd.

         The second drug distribution case (No. 110235023) concerned Byrd's distribution of drugs about five months after the first incident. On that date, according to the State's proffer at the plea hearing, Byrd was observed by Baltimore City Police officer Thomas Wilson, ("Wilson"), [1] in the same block and at the same vacant house where Byrd had been seen exchanging money for suspected drugs in the first case. One gel cap of heroin was found on the porch of that house when it was searched.

         Byrd, pursuant to an ABA plea agreement, agreed to plead guilty to two counts of possession with intent to distribute heroin; the court, in turn, agreed to sentence him to concurrent sentences of twelve years incarceration, with all but four years suspended in lieu of three years probation. After Byrd was questioned by the plea judge to make sure that the guilty plea was knowingly and voluntarily entered, the court accepted the plea and sentenced Byrd in accordance with the plea agreement.

         On January 25, 2018, after he had completed his sentence and probation in the aforementioned two cases, Byrd filed a petition for writ of error coram nobis. The State filed an answer to the petition after which Byrd filed an amended coram nobis petition. A hearing on Byrd's amended petition was held on April 4, 2018.

         At the coram nobis hearing, the major issue in dispute was whether Byrd had been denied a constitutional or fundamental right when he pled guilty to the aforementioned two heroin distribution charges. Byrd contended that there was such a denial because prior to the date that he entered the guilty pleas, the State failed to advise him of past dishonest conduct, in other cases, by Wilson and Hersl.

         At the coram nobis hearing, Byrd's counsel introduced a February 9, 2018 Baltimore Sun article that stated that Wilson, in 2003, had given testimony in a federal case that the judge had not found to be credible. The newspaper article also related that in 2005, the Baltimore City Police Department's Internal Affairs Division recommended that Wilson be fired for allegedly entering and searching a home without a warrant, then getting a warrant after the fact, and falsifying paperwork to suggest that the warrant had been obtained before the search occurred. Regarding that incident, according to the Baltimore Sun article, a trial board found Wilson guilty of misconduct and neglect of duty and recommended a fifteen-day suspension without pay.

         In regard to Hersl, counsel for Byrd argued that in the officer's internal affairs files there were findings, prior to Byrd's 2011 plea, indicating that he had made one or more false statements. The evidence in this regard was quite vague.[2]

         Byrd, the only witness called at the coram nobis hearing, testified that his attorney did not "go over the [i]nternal [a]ffairs files" with him that concerned either Hersl or Wilson. He testified that he would have "found [it] significant" if his attorney had told him that "Wilson had [i]nternal [a]ffairs findings that related to dishonesty" or that Hersl "had sustained findings or negative findings for being dishonest or filing false paperwork[.]" He further testified that if he had known that Wilson and Hersl "both had honesty related findings or dishonesty findings" he would not have pled guilty on March 11, 2011. Byrd did not, however, claim that he was innocent of either of the charges to which he pled guilty.

         At the coram nobis hearing, Byrd's lawyer argued that the contents of Wilson and Hersl's personnel files and/or their internal affairs files, undermined their credibility and that the State was obligated to give his client such impeaching information prior to Byrd's guilty pleas. Byrd's counsel maintained that because the impeaching evidence was not divulged, his plea was not made knowingly, voluntarily, or intelligently. The State contended, citing United States v. Ruiz, 536 U.S. 622, 629 (2002), that the right to impeachment information is a trial right, and does not have any bearing on whether a plea is made knowingly, intelligently or voluntarily.

         After considering argument of counsel, Judge Charles H. Dorsey, III took the matter under advisement. On April 27, 2018, Judge Dorsey signed a "Memorandum Regarding Petition for Writ of Error Coram Nobis" in which he concluded that the case was controlled by United States v. Ruiz, which he interpreted as holding that the State, prior to the date that a defendant enters a guilty plea, is not required to disclose impeachment information to the defendant. Accordingly, in an order also signed on April 27, 2018, Judge Dorsey denied Byrd's petition for writ of error coram nobis. In this appeal, Byrd, asserts:

The Circuit Court erred in denying the Petition for Writ of Error Coram Nobis, where the State, prior to appellant pleading guilty, did not disclose material information concerning key police witnesses.

         For the reasons set forth below, we shall affirm Judge Dorsey's denial of Byrd's petition for writ of error coram nobis.


         A petitioner who files for coram nobis relief, must satisfy five conditions:

[1] "'the grounds for challenging the criminal conviction must be of a constitutional, jurisdictional, or fundamental character'"; [2] the petitioner has the burden to overcome the "'presumption of regularity'" in the criminal case; [3] "'the coram nobis petitioner must be suffering or facing significant collateral consequences from the conviction'"[3]; [4] the issue must not be waived; and [5] there may be no other "'statutory or common law remedy [ ] then available.'"

Hyman v. State, 463 Md. 656, 672 (2019) (quoting State v. Smith, 443 Md. 572, 599 (2015)).

         In this case we will presume, as Judge Dorsey did, that Byrd proved factors 2-5. The parties are at odds, however, as to whether Byrd satisfied factor 1.

         Byrd claims that factor 1 was satisfied inasmuch as his counsel proffered evidence that showed that the State, by withholding impeaching evidence concerning past dishonest acts by Wilson and Hersl, violated Byrd's rights that were protected by the United States Constitution. Byrd relies primarily on Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963) and its progeny: Brady v. United States, 397 U.S. 742 (1970) and United States v. Fisher, 711 F.3d 460 (4th Cir. 2013).

         Brady v. Maryland concerned John Brady, who was convicted by a jury of first-degree murder. The jury recommended that Brady receive the death penalty. 373 U.S. at 84. At Brady's trial, he admitted that he participated in the robbery of the murder victim but denied that he was the person who strangled and killed that victim. According to Brady's trial testimony, the actual murder was committed by his accomplice, Boblit. Id.

         Prior to Brady's trial, his counsel was shown several statements made to the police by Boblit. But the prosecutor did not give Brady's counsel an unsigned statement by Boblit, dated July 9, 1958, in which Boblit admitted that he killed the victim.

         Boblit's murder trial took place after Brady's conviction. At his trial, Boblit told the jury that the murder was committed by Brady. See Brady v. State, 222 Md. 442, 444 (1960).

         Brady filed a post-conviction action claiming that his due process rights were violated by the State when it withheld the July 9, 1958 statement from his lawyer. Ultimately, the Maryland Court of Appeals reversed Brady's death penalty sentence and remanded the case for a new sentencing hearing on the grounds that the State's failure to provide Brady with Boblit's July 9 statement constituted a violation of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. 373 U.S. at 85-86. Because Brady had admitted at trial that he participated in the robbery that resulted in the victim's death, he was granted a new trial as to sentencing only because the evidence that was withheld could not have affected the jury's determination that Brady was guilty of first-degree murder of the felony murder variety.

         In Brady v. Maryland, the Supreme Court affirmed the Maryland Court of Appeals, saying:

We now hold that the suppression by the prosecution of evidence favorable to an accused upon request violates due process where the evidence is material either to guilt or to punishment, irrespective of the good faith or bad faith of the prosecution.

Id. at 87.

         In interpreting Brady v. Maryland, it is important to remember that Brady dealt with what information must be given to the defendant to ensure a fair trial. See United States v. Mathur, 624 F.3d 498, 506-07 (1st Cir. 2010) ("The animating principle of Brady is the avoidance of an unfair trial. It is, therefore, universally acknowledged that the ...

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