Motion to Modify and the Maryland Justice Reinvestment Act
The Maryland Justice Reinvestment Act that passed a few years ago did many important things. One of the more important pieces of that legislation was that it eliminated mandatory minimum sentences of imprisonment without the possibility of parole that was required by existing law for defendants who were convicted of certain drug offenses and who had prior offenses. As you can see from other posts on our website, we handle Motions for Modification of Sentence in Maryland.
The Act allowed persons who were already serving mandatory minimum sentences to ask the court to reduce the sentence. This can be found under Maryland Code, Criminal Law Article, §5-609.1. There have been all kinds of questions about how the criteria under 5-609.1 of the Justice Reinvestment Act should be handled and just recently the Maryland Court of Appeals issued an opinion to offer clarity on those interpretations.
Clarification by Maryland Court of Appeals Regarding the Justice Reinvestment Act
The Court of Appeals gave these four clarifications of the law under 5-609.1 of the Maryland Justice Reinvestment Act:
- Under CR §5-609.1, a court may modify a mandatory minimum sentence that was imposed prior to the effective date of the JRA following a guilty plea pursuant to a binding plea agreement, even if the State does not consent to the modification. The decision whether to modify a mandatory minimum sentence is a matter within the sentencing court’s discretion, upon consideration of the factors in CR §5-609.1(b).
- Under CR §5-609.1, a court may modify a mandatory minimum sentence, even if that sentence was imposed prior to the effective date of the JRA following a guilty plea pursuant to binding a plea agreement in which the defendant waived the right to seek modification of the sentence. The decision whether to modify a mandatory minimum sentence is a matter within the sentencing court’s discretion, upon consideration of the factors in CR §5-609.1(b).
- In considering the factors set forth in CR §5-609.1(b) and exercising its discretion to decide whether to modify a mandatory minimum sentence pursuant to that statute, a court should, in most circumstances, conduct a hearing to receive evidence when such evidence will aid the exercise of the court’s discretion and to hear argument from the parties concerning the application of the factors in CR §5-609.1(b). Under Maryland Rule 4-345, the court must hold a hearing before it grants a motion. There is no absolute requirement in the statute or rule to hold a hearing when the court denies a motion.
- An appellate court has jurisdiction of an appeal of an order denying a motion under CR §5-609.1 because that statute shifts the burden of persuasion to the State with the result that a decision on that motion is similar to a re-sentencing that results in a final judgment. The decision on such a motion is committed to the discretion of the circuit court and the standard of review is abuse of discretion, which may include a legal error, such as the circuit court failing to recognize or exercise its discretion.
This opinion by the Maryland Court of Appeals regarding Motions for Modification of Sentence in Maryland is important in many respects. First, even if you had a “binding plea” to the mandatory minimum you can still request relief under 5-609.1. Second, even if your plea agreement said you “waived” your right to file a modification you can still do so under 5-609.1 if you qualify. Finally, you can appeal a loss on one of these motions. These clarifications by the Court are very helpful to lawyers navigating the client’s rights under the Maryland Justice Reinvestment Act.
Where Do You Go From here?
Mandatory minimum sentences are cruel, unfair, and do not make our communities safer. If you or a loved one is serving a mandatory minimum sentence and you think you or that person may qualify under 5-609.1, please call for a consultation or use our website button above to schedule a consultation online. Read the reviews for our modification attorney, Justin Eisele. If you would like to read other other post on Motions for Modification, you can do that here.