Maryland Court Interprets “Enhanced Sentencing” Statute in Robbery Case

supreme-court-657704-mEvery phase of a criminal case is significant. And each part of the proceeding — from arrest to sentencing — must comply with applicable state law. These laws are in place to ensure that people who are accused of a crime are afforded basic constitutional rights, among other things. Under Maryland’s enhanced sentencing statute, if a person is sentenced as a repeat violent offender, he or she could be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Like most criminal statutes, the language may be subject to interpretation depending on the circumstances of a case. If you have been arrested or charged with a crime, it is important to understand your rights as early as possible in the proceedings. An experienced criminal defense attorney would be able to help defend your case with full knowledge of the laws applicable to Maryland cases.

In a recent criminal case, the defendant was arrested for robbing a bank. He was previously convicted for armed robbery in 1991 and 1995 and for robbery in 2001. The State brought the case against the defendant as a “repeat violent offender.” The defendant was convicted of two counts of robbery and sentenced to serve two concurrent terms of life in prison without the possibility of parole. The defendant appealed, arguing (among other things) that the trial court erred in sentencing him to two life without parole sentences under the Maryland enhanced sentencing statute. He claimed that his previous robbery and armed robbery convictions are not enumerated crimes of violence under § 14-401, and thus he should not have been sentenced as a fourth-time offender.

The State argued that the defendant’s interpretation ignored the clear legislative intent behind the law. The court conducted a thorough review of the enhanced penalty statute, concluding that robbery and armed robbery have always been included in the list of violent crimes that would form the basis for imposing a more severe penalty against repeat offenders. But the defendant argued that two of his previous convictions arose under “common law” and not the statutory provisions cited by § 14-401. The court proceeded to interpret the statutory language and consulted other sources in order to discern the intent of the legislature.

Ultimately, the court pointed out that this question has not been previously raised or addressed in a Maryland published opinion. That is, no other court or court of appeal has ever questioned whether a previous conviction for robbery or armed robbery arising under common law or an earlier version of the code would qualify as a previous conviction under the enhanced sentencing statute. According to the court, the stated purpose of § 14-401 is to provide a warning to repeat violent offenders that they will be subject to more severe penalties and to protect the public from such violent offenders who do not heed the warning. If the court accepted the defendant’s position, the purpose of the statute would be obstructed.

The court further added that robbery and armed robbery have been listed as qualifying crimes of violence for as long as Maryland has had an enhanced penalty statute. The court concluded that the trial court did not err in finding that the defendant’s previous convictions qualified as predicate offenses under the statute. Therefore, the trial court was deemed justified in imposing a mandatory life sentence for a fourth robbery conviction.

This case illustrates the complicated nature of the sentencing phase of a criminal case.  A criminal charge or arrest is a serious matter. Seeking the counsel of an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney is one of the most effective ways to approach any criminal investigation. If you are arrested or charged with a crime, our office will work diligently to develop the best strategy to defend your case. Contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

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