Thursday, March 15, 2007

Knox v. State (Ct. of Special Appeals)

Filed March 13, 2007. Opinion by Judge Peter B. Krauser.

On August 25, 2000, Derrick I. Knox was arrested on an outstanding bench warrant. In a search of Knox's pants pockets, the police found plastic bags filled with cocaine and marijuana and more than $1,500.00 in cash. Knox was subsequently charged in the Circuit Court of Wicomico County with possession of marijuana, possession of cocaine and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.

Knox failed to appear for arraignment in circuit court and a bench warrant for his arrest was issued. Knox was later arrested on the warrant but released on bail. Knox failed to appear for arraignment two more times on December 22, 2000 and January 5, 2001. On February 2, 2001, Charles J. Jannace, III, Esquire entered his appearance on behalf of Knox, waived arraignment and entered a plea of not guilty. The State then served Jannace with a notice of its intent to seek "an enhanced punishment" because Knox was a subsequent offender. A jury trial was scheduled for March 20, 2001. Although Knox, again, failed to appear, Jannace did at which time the State informed the court and Jannace that Knox was '"as subsequent offender regarding [controlled dangerous substance] offenses ...."' Jannace then filed a motion to strike his appearance, which was granted.

At Knox's appearance in court, on July 13, 2001, he was unrepresented by counsel having signed a waiver stating he did not wish to be represented by the public defender. The court informed Knox of the charges against him and the maximum penalties. The court further cautioned Knox that the most serious charge could result in a sentence of 20 years and a fine of $25,000.00 and advised him of his right to a public defender and adding that if he failed to appear at trial without counsel, he could be found to have waived his right to counsel.

When Knox appeared for the trial on September 13, 2001, he was unrepresented by counsel. After questioning Knox about his efforts to obtain counsel and noting "Knox's repeated failure to appear for court proceedings and his failure to provide any 'significant information as to what efforts, if any, he ha[d] made to retain an attorney ... since March [20, 2001],' [], the circuit court found that Knox had waived his right to counsel by inaction. It then ordered the trial to proceed, indicating that Knox would have to represent himself." Following a bench trial, Knox was found guilty of all three charges.

At sentencing, the State introduced the "notice of intent" served on Jannace asserting the State's intention to seek "enhanced punishment." The notice was admitted into evidence without objection and the court sentenced Knox to a term of twenty years' imprisonment for possession of cocain with intent to distribute, suspending all but fifteen years of that sentence. Because of his subsequent offender status, ten of the unsuspended fifteen years would be mandatory and subject to limited possibility of parole.

The circuit court granted part of a petition for post-conviction relief filed by Knox, permitting him to seek appellate review of his contention that the circuit court erred in failing to advise him that he faced enhanced penalties as a subsequent offender before finding he had waived his right to counsel by inaction. Knox asserted that the court has violated Rule 4-215 which states, in part, that (a) At the defendant's first appearance in court without counsel, ... the court shall: (3) Advise the defendant of the nature of the charges in the charging document, and the allowable penalties, including mandatory penalties, if any. Because he faced the enhanced penalty, Knox asserted that the court was required to advise him of the possible punishment, and, having failed to do so, the court could not then find that he had waived his right to counsel by inaction.

The Court of Special Appeals found that "Rule 4-215 does not require the court to advise an unrepresented accused at his first appearance in court without counsel of enhanced penalties that this status as a subsequent offender may portend, or at anytime thereafter, nor did the court violate that rule in determining that Knox had no meritorious reason for appearing without counsel." Further, the Court of Special Appeals found that the "mandatory penalties" provision of Rule 4-215 does not specify whether that includes penalties mandated by recidivist statutes.

The Court of Special Appeals noted that the "disclosure of sentencing peril that awaits a subsequent offender is specifically governed by Rule 4-245, not Rule 4-215." Rule 4-245 places the burden of disclosure of sentencing peril faced by the defendant on the State's Attorney, and requires that notice be given, not at his first appearance in court but at least 5 or 15 days before sentencing, depending on whether the charges are brought in district or circuit court. The Court of Special Appeals further noted that Rule 4-245 requires that notice of the State’s Attorney's intent to seek an enhance penalty "'shall be filed with the clerk and presented to the court' but only '[a]fter acceptance of a plea of guilty or nolo contendere or after conviction ...' Rule 4-245(d). The rule is emphatic: 'The allegation that the defendant is a subsequent offender is not an issue in the trial on the charging document and may not be disclosed to the trier of fact without the consent of the defendant, except as permitted' by the rule. Id." The Court of Special Appeals then found that the State fully complied with the notice requirements of Rule 4-245(c).
The Court of Special Appeals then reviewed the process by which the circuit court found that Knox had waived his right to counsel by inaction and found that the circuit court had not abused its discretion in finding that Knox's reasons for appearing without counsel were not meritorious. The Court of Special Appeals then distinguished the instant matter from Moore v. State, 331 Md. 179 (1993) and Gray v. State, 338 Md. 106 (1995).

Judgments affirmed.

This opinion is available in PDF.

No comments: