In the instant case, we must determine whether the trial court in a criminal case erred in permitting the rebuttal testimony of expert witnesses who had not been disclosed to the defendant prior to trial and in refusing to permit the defendant a continuance in order to prepare rebuttal to the expert testimony. We hold that the trial judge erred in admitting such testimony. We further find that the admission of the testimony was not harmless error.
This case arises out of the 1993 conviction of Richard Lee Hutchins (Hutchins) for theft of an automobile valued over $300. Testimony at trial established that, on October 24, 1992, in an attempt to sell the vehicle, Scott Hanson (Hanson) parked his 1986 Nissan Maxima on a grassy strip across from the Paris Oaks Shopping Center in Calvert County.
The State produced evidence indicating that on October 28 and 29, 1992, Hutchins had contacted Sherbert's Towing Inc. (Sherbert's) by phone, identifying himself as Richard Johnson, and requested that they pick up a 1986 Nissan Maxima at the Paris Oaks Shopping Center. Hutchins asked Sherbert's to tow the car to his place of business, Richard's Auto Sales, located on Marlboro Pike, where he would meet the tow truck driver. He informed Sherbert's that the brake was off and the wheels were straight, so they did not need the keys to the car to tow it. After meeting the tow truck operator at Richard's Auto Sales on Marlboro Pike, Hutchins had the driver follow him and tow the car to a lot in Washington, D.C. where the car was ultimately recovered. Hutchins paid the tow truck operator with a check that was later returned due to insufficient funds.
In his defense, Hutchins admitted that he had had the car towed, but argued that he had purchased the car from a man named Chris Joblonski (Joblonski).
Hutchins testified that he discovered the car was missing when he attempted to show his business partner the vehicle and found that it was no longer on the lot. When he saw that the car was gone, he went to the D.C. Police Station, where he learned that it had been confiscated and that there was a Calvert County warrant out for his arrest. Hutchins then turned himself in to the Calvert County police, presenting the paperwork that he alleged represented the sale of the car to him by Joblonski.
Following the close of the defense case, the State called two expert witnesses in rebuttal, Melvin Richards (Richards) of Colonial Auction Services and Fred Hardin (Hardin), President of Marlow Motors. Richards, an auctioneer, was accepted by the court as an "expert auctioneer which includes the buying and selling of automobiles." The State proffered that Richards would testify that in his opinion the documents produced by Hutchins as evidence of the sale of the vehicle were not authentic. Hardin was called to testify as an "expert as to the sales of autos between dealers." Defense counsel objected to the expert testimony stating:
The State argued that the experts were on call and that it could not have anticipated whether it was going to call the experts to testify until it knew whether the defendant would testify. The trial judge admitted the expert testimony, finding that although disclosure of the expert would be required if the State was to use the expert in its case in chief, it was not required when the expert is called in rebuttal:
Richards and Hardin each testified that they had sold automobiles to Hutchins in the past and that they had never heard of Day's Auto Sales. They also testified that Maryland law prohibits dealers from selling automobiles outside of their lots other than at authorized areas and Richards testified that the law requires that the odometer reading be listed on the documents that Hutchins had produced as evidence of the sale of the automobile. They both further stated that the exclusion of implied warranty form produced by Hutchins is not filled out in transactions between dealers. Richards also introduced documentation indicating that a 1979 Dodge two door with the same reference number 910416094 as that on the documentation provided by Hutchins was sold at auction by Arlington County. Additionally, during Hardin's testimony, the State produced a document Hardin had obtained which indicated that a company named C & S Auto Sales, for which Hutchins had worked, had purchased another automobile with the reference number 910416094 from Arlington County. Richards also testified as to how one can get a key made for a car if one does not have the keys. During the testimony of these expert witnesses, defense counsel complained that he had not previously been shown any of the exhibits used by the experts during their testimony.
At the close of the State's rebuttal case, defense counsel sought a suspension of the proceedings for one or two weeks so that he could rebut the testimony of Hardin and Richards. The court denied this request as well as a request by the defense for a judgment of acquittal. The trial judge then rendered a verdict of guilty against Hutchins.
Hutchins appealed to the Court of Special Appeals, which affirmed the trial judge. See Hutchins v. State, 101 Md.App. 640, 647 A.2d 1271 (1994). The intermediate appellate court held that the State was required to disclose to the defense the substance of the conclusions made by the experts whom the State had consulted. Hutchins, 101 Md. App. at 650, 647 A.2d at 1277. The court nonetheless held that the error in failing to make this disclosure was harmless, because the expert testimony consisted of factual testimony which supported Hutchins's own concession that the paperwork he had produced was not authentic. Hutchins, 101 Md. App. at 651-52, 647 A.2d at 1277. The court also held that a continuance was not required because "there was no reason whatsoever to believe that a continuance would turn up Joblonski or any other witnesses whose testimony would impeach the testimony presented by the State's rebuttal witnesses." Hutchins, 101 Md. App. at 652, 647 A.2d at 1277. Hutchins petitioned for a writ of certiorari which we granted to determine whether the trial judge erred in permitting the expert testimony and, if so, whether such an error in harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.
Maryland Rule 4-263(b) sets forth the information that the State's Attorney must provide to a criminal defendant upon request. Under Md.Rule 4-263(b)(1), the State must "[d]isclose to the defendant the name and address of each person then known whom the State intends to call as a witness at the hearing or trial to prove its case in chief or to rebut alibi testimony." Maryland Rule 4-263(b)(4) requires the State to:
The purpose of this discovery rule is to "assist the defendant in preparing his defense, and to protect him from surprise." Mayson v. State, 238 Md. 283, 287, 208 A.2d 599, 602 (1965) (discussing Md.Rule 728, a precursor to Md.Rule 4-263).
In the instant case, the trial judge appeared to refer only to Md.Rule 4-263(b)(1) and held that, because the experts were called as rebuttal witnesses rather than in the State's case in chief, the State was not obligated to disclose the experts to the defendant. We do not agree with the trial judge's interpretation of the requirements of Md.Rule 4-263. We agree that because Richards and Hardin did not testify in the State's case in chief, the State was not required to disclose these witnesses to Hutchins under Maryland Rule 4-263(b)(1). Nevertheless, whether or not Richards and Hardin testified in the State's case in chief or in rebuttal, the State was required to disclose their names and written conclusions or statements to Hutchins under Md.Rule 4-263(b)(4).
In Hoey v. State, 311 Md. 473, 536 A.2d 622 (1988), this Court considered the disclosure requirements set forth under Md.Rule 4-263(b)(1) and (b)(4). In Hoey, the State, in an effort to rebut the defendant's assertion of lack of criminal responsibility, called as an expert a psychiatrist who had treated the defendant. Defense counsel objected to the introduction of this testimony, arguing that the State had not disclosed its intention to call the psychiatrist as an expert witness. We held that disclosure of the psychiatrist's testimony was not required under either Md.Rule 4-263(b)(1) or (b)(4). Hoey, 311 Md. at 488-89, 536 A.2d at 629. Addressing the required disclosure under Md.Rule 4-263(b)(1), we noted that the psychiatrist's testimony was neither part of the State's case in chief, nor an attempt to rebut alibi testimony:
Hoey, 311 Md. at 488-89, 536 A.2d at 629.
Analyzing the necessary disclosure under Md.Rule 4-263(b)(4), we found that disclosure was only required of experts consulted by the State. Hoey, 311 Md. at 489, 536 A.2d at 629. We held that the psychiatrist had not been consulted by the State because the psychiatrist "did not conduct any tests on Hoey at the request of the State's Attorney. Rather, all tests conducted by [the psychiatrist] were made as part of his duties as Hoey's treating psychiatrist." Id. We therefore held that disclosure was not required under Md.Rule 2-463(b)(4). Id.
In contrast to the circumstances in Hoey, in the instant case, the State clearly consulted with both Richards and Hardin. The State asked them to review the documents presented by the defendant, sought information regarding the experts' lack of familiarity with Day's Auto Sales and regarding common practices between automobile dealers, and requested documents held by both experts. Additionally, in presenting the testimony of both witnesses, the State explicitly offered both Richards and Hardin as experts in their fields. Thus, both Richards and Hardin were "expert[s] consulted by the State" under Md.Rule 4-263(b)(4). The State therefore had an obligation to disclose to Hutchins any written reports or statements and the substance of any oral reports and conclusions of these two experts regardless of whether or not the State expected to call Richards and Hardin to the stand to testify.
Having determined that the State violated Md.Rule 4-263(b)(4), we must determine whether such a violation constituted harmless error.
We initially note, as did the Court of Special Appeals, that the remedy under Md.Rule 4-263(i) for a violation of the discovery rule is within the sound discretion of the trial judge. See Evans v. State, 304 Md. 487, 500, 499 A.2d 1261, 1268 (1985), cert. denied, 478 U.S. 1010, 106 S.Ct. 3310, 92 L.Ed.2d 722 (1986). In the instant case, the trial judge found as a matter of law that the State was not required to disclose the names of and conclusions of Richards and Hardin to Hutchins. The trial judge found no discovery violation and therefore exercised no discretion. As discussed above, the trial judge erred because the State did in fact violate Md.Rule 4-263(b)(4) by failing to disclose any reports or statements made by the expert witnesses, Richards and Hardin. Unless such an error was harmless, we must reverse. See Wilson v. State, 334 Md. 313, 338, 639 A.2d 125, 137 (1994); Stewart v. State, 334 Md. 213, 228, 638 A.2d 754, 761 (1994); Dorsey v. State, 276 Md. 638, 659, 350 A.2d 665, 678 (1976).
This Court set forth the standard for evaluating harmless error in Dorsey, supra. We stated in Dorsey:
276 Md. at 659, 350 A.2d at 678. We have applied the standard set forth in Dorsey in several of our recent opinions. See Bhagwat v. State, 338 Md. 263, 282, 658 A.2d 244, 253 (1995); State v. Mazzone, 336 Md. 379, 400, 648 A.2d 978, 988 (1994); Wilson, 334 Md. at 338, 639 A.2d at 137; Stewart, 334 Md. at 228, 638 A.2d at 761; Evans v. State, 333 Md. 660, 683, 637 A.2d 117, 128-29, cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 115 S.Ct. 109, 130 L.Ed.2d 56 (1994); Beales v. State, 329 Md. 263, 274, 619 A.2d 105, 111 (1993).
In the instant case, the intermediate appellate court held that the trial judge's error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt and did not warrant reversal. Hutchins, 101 Md. App. at 651, 647 A.2d at 1277. The court noted:
Id. The court also reasoned that not everything testified to by an expert constitutes a conclusion under Md.Rule 4-263(b)(4) and that in the instant case, "[a]lmost all of the State's case in rebuttal consisted of fact testimony." Hutchins, 101 Md. App. at 651-52, 647 A.2d at 1277.
Relying on the reasoning of the Court of Special Appeals, the State sets forth several arguments which it asserts support a finding that the admission of the expert rebuttal testimony and the failure of the trial judge to grant the requested continuance constitute harmless error. First, the State argues that the testimony of Richards and Hardin consisted of statements of fact, not opinion testimony, and that such factual testimony on the part of an expert is not required to be disclosed under Md.Rule 4-263(b)(4). Second, the State argues that the "facts" testified to by their rebuttal experts simply reiterated portions of Hutchins's own testimony. Finally, the State argues that in reaching his verdict, "[a]t no point did the court state that it had been influenced by any opinions or conclusions expressed by the experts as to whether or not Hutchins should have known the documents from Joblonski were phony." We find these arguments unpersuasive.
We note that had the trial judge recognized the State's obligation to disclose Richards and Hardin as experts and inform the defendant of their conclusions, Richards and Hardin may not have been permitted to testify at all. Regardless of the fact that much of Richards's and Hardin's testimony may have been factual, both witnesses were proffered and accepted by the trial judge as experts. The trial judge incorrectly ruled that, because Richards and Hardin were to testify in rebuttal, the State was not required to disclose the nature of Richards's and Hardin's expert opinions to Hutchins. Had the trial judge recognized that the State was in fact required under Md.Rule 4-263(b)(4) to make such a disclosure, he may have entirely excluded the testimony of Richards and Hardin.
We do not agree with the State that the admission of the testimony was harmless in that it merely reiterated the admitted fact that Hutchins's paperwork was counterfeit. Our review of the record indicates that while Hutchins's counsel admitted in his opening statement that the paperwork was "bogus," Hutchins's testimony attempted to show that Hutchins had been duped by Joblonski and that Hutchins had reason to believe that the paperwork was accurate. In addition to weakening Hutchins's testimony by introducing documents indicating that the vehicle identification number on the documents introduced by Hutchins actually represented another car Hutchins had purchased, Richards and Hardin also may have weakened Hutchins's defense both by testifying that it was not common practice for dealers to sell cars off of their lots and by testifying that, despite their experience in the field, they had never heard of Day's Auto Sales. The testimony provided by Richards and Hardin therefore did not reiterate Hutchins's testimony, but rather, contradicted it by suggesting that Hutchins himself forged the documents by altering records for vehicles he had previously purchased.
We also cannot find beyond a reasonable doubt that the testimony of Richards and Hardin did not influence the trial judge's verdict. The transcript of the verdict contains several apparent references to the testimony of these experts and to documents introduced and referred to during their testimony:
It seems apparent from our independent review of the record that in reaching his verdict, the trial judge relied on the testimony of Richards and Hardin in several respects. The trial judge specifically referred to State's exhibit number seven, which was introduced by Richards in his testimony and which Hutchins's counsel argued he had never been shown prior to its introduction in court. Both Richards and Hardin also testified as to the authenticity of the documents Hutchins presented in his defense, which were marked as Defense exhibit number three. The trial judge further alluded to the testimony of the Colonial expert, being Richards, who was employed by Colonial Auction Services. Additionally, in stating that he did not believe Hutchins, the trial judge relied heavily on the testimony that there was no Day's Auto Sales.
Because, based upon our independent review of the record, we cannot find beyond a reasonable doubt that the trial judge's error in no way influenced his verdict, we must reverse.