Friday, March 2, 2007

Dawson v. State (Ct. of Special Appeals)

Filed March 1, 2007. Opinion by Judge Lawrence F. Rodowsky; Concurring and dissenting opinion by Chief Judge Joseph Murphy.

As part of a plea bargain, Dawson, who originally was charged with sexually touching his 16-year-old stepdaughter, entered an Alford plea to one count of child abuse. An Alford plea is a device a defendant uses to plead guilty for purposes of accepting a plea bargain without actually admitting guilt. See, North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25, 91 S. Ct. 160, 27 L. Ed. 2d 162 (1970). When Dawson learned that he would be required to register as a sex offender under MD CP Code Ann. § 11-704, he attempted to withdraw his guilty plea. The trial court denied the request to withdraw, holding that there was no constitutional requirement that a defendant be advised that the consequences of a guilty plea would include registration as a sex offender.

On appeal, Dawson argued that a guilty plea to child abuse did not require registration because child abuse is a "general, 'non-sexual' crime" and all of the charges of sexual offenses against him had been dropped. The court disagreed, noting that the definition of "abuse" under the charging statute, Article 27, MD Code Ann. § 35C, included sexual abuse of a child. Because the alleged abuse was not "completely unrelated" to a sexual offense, Dawson could be ordered to register.

Dawson also argued that he could not have made a constitutionally valid knowing and voluntary guilty plea unless he was advised that one of the consequences would be registration as a sex offender. The court declined to decide this issue, noting that the case could be resolved on non-constitutional grounds. The court held that the proper issue under MD Rule 4-242 was whether the withdrawal of the guilty plea served the interest of justice, not whether the plea was constitutionally invalid. Because the trial court had not applied the correct standard, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

In a separate opinion, Chief Judge Murphy opined that Dawson was entitled to withdraw his guilty plea under Rule 4-242, but that subsequently he could be tried for the offense and, if convicted, could be required to register.

The opinion is available in PDF.

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