We consider whether a plea agreement entered into in the District Court of Maryland remains binding once a defendant files a de novo appeal to the circuit court, pursuant to Courts & Judicial Proceedings (Cts. & Jud. Proc.) § 12-401.
For the reasons that follow, we shall affirm the judgment of the Circuit Court for Allegany County.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
On June 14, 2014, Petitioner was observed stealing several t-shirts, hair color,
In the District Court, Petitioner and the State entered into a plea agreement whereby Petitioner agreed to plead guilty to theft, in exchange for the State's agreement to recommend no executed jail time. Both parties acknowledged that the plea agreement was not binding on the District Court. During the District Court proceeding, the District Court judge found Petitioner guilty. During the sentencing phase of the hearing, the State recommended Petitioner not serve any jail time. The State advised the court that in 2013, charges against Petitioner for theft and credit card fraud were placed on the stet docket; in 2011, charges for false imprisonment and disorderly conduct were also placed on the stet docket; and in 2007, bad check charges were also placed on the stet docket. Finally, the State indicated that in 2006, in West Virginia, Petitioner was convicted for writing a bad check and fraud. Petitioner's defense counsel noted that Petitioner paid $205 to Walmart after receiving a demand letter from Walmart's attorneys and that she was a single mother with three children. Petitioner testified that "[it was] just something that happened, [a] mistake." In response, the District Court judge remarked that Petitioner had "made a lot of mistakes[,]" and sentenced Petitioner to thirty days' incarceration. Thereafter, Petitioner noted a timely de novo appeal to the Circuit Court for Allegany County.
On June 2, 2015, Petitioner entered a plea of not guilty and requested a jury trial. The State subsequently offered Petitioner a new plea agreement whereby Petitioner would plead guilty in exchange for the State's recommendation of 30 days' incarceration. On July 2, 2015, Petitioner filed a Motion to Enforce the Plea Agreement in the circuit court, arguing the State violated the terms of the District Court plea agreement by altering its sentencing recommendation from no incarceration to thirty days' incarceration. During a hearing scheduled on July 28, 2015, Petitioner argued that the terms of the District Court plea agreement remained binding on the State during the de novo appeal to the circuit court. In response, the State argued that since the trial was de novo, the circuit court considered the case anew, and therefore, no plea agreement existed between the parties. The circuit court agreed that on de novo appeal, the case began anew for both the prosecution and the defense, and that the District Court plea agreement was no longer enforceable.
Petitioner timely filed an interlocutory appeal to the Court of Special Appeals. Prior to briefing, the Court of Special Appeals sua sponte transferred the case to this Court, pursuant to Maryland Rule 8-132.
Additional facts shall be provided, infra, to the extent they prove relevant in addressing the issues presented.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
For questions of law, we "undertake an independent review of the legal correctness of the [c]ircuit [c]ourt's ruling, without according it any deference." Oku v. State, 433 Md. 582, 593, 72 A.3d 538, 544 (2013). Whether a plea agreement has
Petitioner argues that the State violated the terms of the District Court plea agreement by offering a new plea in the de novo proceeding, whereby Petitioner would plead guilty in exchange for the State's recommendation of thirty days' incarceration, instead of no incarceration as the parties originally agreed.
I. Plea Agreements as Contracts
a. Reasonable Interpretation of Terms
This Court has repeatedly acknowledged that plea bargains are akin to contracts. See, e.g., Cuffley v. State, 416 Md. 568, 579, 7 A.3d 557, 563 (2010) ("Plea bargains are likened to contracts.") (quoting Tweedy, 380 Md. at 482, 845 A.2d at 1219); see also Solorzano v. State, 397 Md. 661, 668, 919 A.2d 652, 668 (2007) ("Because plea bargains are similar to contracts...."). In considering whether a plea agreement has been violated, appellate courts "construe the terms of the plea agreement according to the reasonable understanding of the defendant when he [or she] pled guilty." Solorzano, 397 Md. at 668, 919 A.2d at 656 (citations omitted). In Cuffley, we concluded that:
Cuffley, 416 Md. at 582, 7 A.3d at 565 (emphasis in original).
"[I]f examination of the terms of the plea agreement itself, by reference to what was presented on the record at the plea proceeding before the defendant pleads guilty, reveals what the defendant reasonably understood to be the terms of the agreement, then that determination governs the agreement." Baines v. State, 416 Md. 604, 615, 7 A.3d 578, 585 (2010). Further, "[i]f the record of the plea proceeding clearly discloses what the defendant reasonably understood to be the terms of the agreement, then the defendant is entitled to the benefit of the bargain, which, at the defendant's option, is either specific enforcement of the agreement or withdrawal of the plea." Cuffley, 416 Md. at 583, 7 A.3d at 566 (internal citations omitted). If the plea agreement is ambiguous then the ambiguity should be construed in favor of the defendant. Solorzano, 397 Md. at 673, 919 A.2d at 659.
Petitioner argues that the plea agreement neither limited the State's obligation to the District Court proceeding nor indicated that the State's obligation would cease if Petitioner noted an appeal. The State disagrees, and argues that because the plea agreement did not include a provision that the State would make the same no-jail recommendation on a de novo appeal, no reasonable person in Petitioner's position would interpret the agreement to apply in the circuit court proceeding.
The record reflects that at the commencement of the April 30, 2015 hearing, the State informed the District Court of the parties' intent to enter into a plea agreement with the previously referenced terms. After entering her guilty plea, Petitioner's counsel explained to Petitioner that:
The State then explained the underlying facts it would have presented had Petitioner pled not guilty and proceeded to trial. Once the State presented the facts, the District Court judge held that "[i]t will be a finding of guilty." At that point, the terms of the plea were satisfied and the agreement was complete.
We hold that, based on the above-referenced record, a reasonable person in Petitioner's position would not have expected the plea agreement to extend beyond the District Court proceeding. During defense counsel's colloquy with Petitioner, he explained what trial rights Petitioner was foregoing by pleading guilty, but provided no notice to Petitioner that her appellate rights remained intact or that an appeal of her conviction would result in a de novo proceeding. Absent any evidence in the record to the contrary, we conclude the plea agreement was limited to the District Court proceeding.
Oku v. State as Precedent for Extending District Court Plea Agreement to De Novo Proceeding
Oku, De Novo Proceedings Are A "Do Over For Findings of Fact and Judgment of Guilt"
Petitioner quotes Oku v. State for the proposition that "[o]ur de novo trial system provides for what is essentially a `do over' in terms of the findings of fact and
We agree with the State's characterization of Oku and its applicability to this case. In Oku, we concluded that filing a de novo appeal from the District Court to the circuit court does not extinguish the District Court judgment. See Oku, 433 Md. at 592, 72 A.3d at 544. "Rather, `the District Court's judgment remains in effect pending the appeal to the circuit court, unless and until superseded by a judgment of the circuit court or a disposition by nolle prosequi or stet.'" Id. (quoting Stone v. State, 344 Md. 97, 104, 685 A.2d 441, 444 (1996)).
Additionally, we have interpreted de novo to mean "afresh" or "anew," and that a de novo trial affords a criminal defendant a "brand new bite at the apple[.]" Id. 433 Md. at 591, 72 A.3d at 543 (citations omitted). A de novo appeal to the circuit court is treated "as a wholly original proceeding as if the charges had not been heard before and no decision had been rendered." Garrison v. State, 350 Md. 128, 136, 711 A.2d 170, 173 (1998) (quoting State v. Jefferson, 319 Md. 674, 681, 574 A.2d 918, 921 (1990)). On de novo appeal, the circuit court "receive[s] evidence and make[s] determinations of facts as though no prior proceeding had occurred." Oku, 433 Md. at 592, 72 A.3d at 544 (quoting In re Marcus, J., 405 Md. 221, 234-35, 950 A.2d 787 (2008). The parties to the de novo proceeding are neither limited by the evidence presented at the District Court trial nor required to present the same evidence on appeal. Id. (citing Garrison, 350 Md. at 136, 711 A.2d at 174). Our holding in Oku does not, therefore, support the proposition that because the District Court judgment remains in effect, the factual and procedural underpinnings that led to the judgment — the plea agreement — also remain in effect on de novo appeal.
ii. Effect of Petitioner's District Court Guilty Plea
Because we hold that the District Court plea agreement does not extend to the de novo proceeding, it is pertinent to clarify the impact Petitioner's guilty plea in the District Court may have in the de novo proceeding.
The facts in this case are similar to those in Oku. In Oku, we considered whether the de novo system contemplated by Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 12-401(f) barred the State from using a criminal defendant's admission — made during the District Court trial — in the State's case during the subsequent de novo trial. Oku, 433 Md. at 593, 72 A.3d at 544. We emphasized in Oku "that a de novo appeal has the effect of ignoring the judgment below, but only for the limited purpose of granting a defendant, who was convicted upon trial in the District Court, a second trial." Id. at
We also noted that, in contrast to appeals from the District Court that are reviewed "on the record,"
Id. at 596, 72 A.3d at 546.
II. Due Process
6 Concerns in This Case
a. Preservation of Due Process Claims
Before addressing the merits of Petitioner's due process claims, we must
Thus, Petitioner preserved her claim that due process requires the enforcement of the terms of a plea agreement agreed to by the parties. See Maryland Rule 8-131(a).
Second, the State argues that Petitioner never advanced a claim in the circuit court regarding her due process right to avoid prosecutorial vindictiveness in noting a de novo appeal. Petitioner instead first raised this issue in her brief to this Court. Petitioner argues — in her reply brief — that "[t]he due process concern discussed in [Petitioner's] brief is not a separate issue. It is merely one more reason why the plea agreement should be construed in the manner consistently advocated by [Petitioner]." We disagree.
Although Petitioner raised a due process claim before the circuit court, the claim advanced before this Court was outside the scope of the earlier claim. Petitioner's circuit court due process claim relied on the Supreme Court case Santobello v. State, where the Supreme Court held that when "a plea rests in any significant degree on a promise or agreement of the prosecutor, so that it can be said to be part of the inducement or consideration, such promise must be fulfilled." Santobello, 404 U.S. at 262, 92 S.Ct. at 499. The Santobello Court concluded that if the defendant did not receive the benefit of his or her bargain, then he or she can either: (1) have the bargain specifically enforced, or (2) withdraw his or her plea of guilty. Id. at 263, 92 S.Ct. at 499. We subsequently relied on Santobello for the conclusion that "when either the prosecution breaches its promise with respect to a plea agreement, or the court breaches a plea agreement that it agreed to abide by, the defendant is entitled to relief" under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. See Solorzano, 397 Md. at 667-68, 919 A.2d at 656 (citations omitted). Thus, the basis for Petitioner's due process claim in the circuit court was that a defendant has a due process right to enforce the terms of his or her plea agreement when the State or the trial court violates the terms of that agreement.
On appeal, Petitioner's due process claim instead relies on the Supreme Court case Blackledge v. Perry, 417 U.S. 21, 94 S.Ct. 2098, 40 L.Ed.2d 628 (1974). In Blackledge, the Supreme Court considered whether a felony indictment brought after the defendant exercised his statutory right to appeal constituted a penalty in contravention of the due process clause of the
Id. at 28, 94 S.Ct. at 2102-03. Thus, Petitioner's due process claim before us is not based on enforcement of the plea agreement. Rather, Petitioner's claim is based on whether the State's action — recommending a harsher sentence after Petitioner exercised her statutory right to appeal — created a "fear of vindictiveness" that could deter defendants like Petitioner from exercising their statutory right to appeal in contravention of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. We conclude, therefore, that Petitioner's claim regarding her due process right to avoid prosecutorial vindictiveness in noting a de novo appeal was not preserved.
b. Discretion Under Maryland Rule 8-131(a)
Maryland Rule 8-131(a) governs our scope of review in considering issues on appeal. Sub-section (a) states:
Maryland Rule 8-131(a).
We made clear in State v. Bell, 334 Md. 178, 638 A.2d 107 (1994) that our review of arguments not raised at the trial level is discretionary, not mandatory. See Bell, 334 Md. at 188, 638 A.2d at 113. We
Chaney, 397 Md. at 468, 918 A.2d at 511. "We usually elect to review an unpreserved issue only after it has been thoroughly briefed and argued, and where a decision would[:] (1) help correct a recurring error, (2) provide guidance when there is likely to be a new trial, or (3) offer assistance if there is a subsequent collateral attack on the conviction." Conyers v. State, 354 Md. 132, 151, 729 A.2d 910, 920 (1999).
In Jones v. State, 379 Md. 704, 843 A.2d 778 (2004), we held that when presented with a plausible exercise of discretion under Maryland Rule 8-131(a), "appellate courts should make two determinations concerning the promotion or subversion of [Maryland Rule] 8-131(a)'s twin goals." Jones, 379 Md. at 714, 843 A.2d at 784. First, we consider whether the exercise of discretion will work an unfair prejudice to either of the parties. Id.; see also Bell, 334 Md. at 189, 638 A.2d at 113 ("[D]iscretion should be exercised only when it is clear that it will not work an unfair prejudice to the parties or to the court." (citations and footnote omitted)). Part of our determination of whether unfair prejudice would exist is consideration of the rationale for the default or waiver and whether the failure to raise the issue was a considered, deliberate one, or whether it was inadvertent and unintentional. Jones, 379 Md. at 714, 843 A.2d at 784. Second, we consider whether the exercise of discretion will promote the orderly administration of justice. Id. at 715, 843 A.2d at 784. We noted that Maryland Rule 8-131(a) "seeks to prevent the trial of cases in a piecemeal fashion, thereby saving time and expense and accelerating the termination of litigation." Id.
In determining whether to consider the merits of this issue, our precedents recognize that constitutional issues raised for the first time on appeal, and not raised in the trial court, are not automatically entitled to consideration on the merits under Maryland Rule 8-131(a). See, e.g., Oku, 433 Md. at 588-89, 72 A.3d at 541-42 (declining to consider petitioner's Sixth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment claim because petitioner failed to raise either issue in the trial court, and therefore did not properly preserve them for appellate review); see also Balt. Teachers Union v. Bd. of Edu., 379 Md. 192, 205, 840 A.2d 728, 736 (2004) ("Since the constitutional issue raised in the [petitioner's] brief was not raised in the trial court, we shall decline to address it."). Our "established policy is to decide constitutional issues only when necessary." Burch v. United Cable Television of Balt. Ltd. P'ship, 391 Md. 687, 695, 895 A.2d 980, 984 (2006) (quoting Mercy Hospital v. Jackson, 306 Md. 556, 565, 510 A.2d 562, 566 (1986)); see also Balt. Teachers Union, 379 Md. at 205-06, 840 A.2d at 736 ("It is particularly important not to address a constitutional issue not raised in the trial court in light of
The State argues that Petitioner's failure to assert the prosecutorial vindictiveness due process claim in the circuit court created unfair prejudice for two reasons: (1) we do not have the benefit of the circuit court's consideration of this due process argument, and (2) had the circuit court concluded a presumption of vindictiveness should govern construction of the plea agreement, the State would have had an opportunity to present facts that refuted the presumption of vindictiveness. Petitioner notes in her reply brief that the State explained to the circuit court that its reasoning for offering a harsher sentence in the de novo proceeding was because the prosecutor saw no reason to deviate from the District Court's sentence. Petitioner also argues that the State's subjective reasons for recommending a harsher sentence after she noted her de novo appeal are of no consequence because, in her view, when a prosecutor recommends a harsher sentence after a defendant notes a de novo appeal, there is a presumption of vindictiveness that renders the prosecutor's subjective intent in recommending the harsher sentence irrelevant.
Since both parties briefed the issue before this Court and the trial record below is sufficient for us to consider the merits, we may consider Petitioner's prosecutorial vindictiveness due process claim, pursuant to Maryland Rule 8-131(a). Additionally, deciding this due process claim will promote the fair administration of justice because it will dispose of Petitioner's concerns regarding the State's conduct in this case. Considering the merits of this issue will also provide important guidance regarding the constitutionality of prosecutorial conduct during plea bargaining in Maryland's two-tier trial system. See Chaney, 397 Md. at 468, 918 A.2d at 511 (considering petitioner's unpreserved challenge to a restitution order because it constituted plain error and the issue "transcends this case; it is one that may affect hundreds of cases that flow through our criminal and juvenile courts and that implicates important Constitutional and statutory rights, and guidance is needed." (footnote omitted)).
c. Contract Principles and Concerns of "Fairness and Adequacy of Procedural Safeguards"
In considering the enforcement of plea agreements, we have consistently held that in addition to considering contract principles, "[d]ue process concerns for fairness and the adequacy of procedural safeguards guide any interpretation of a court approved plea agreement." See Cuffley, 416 Md. at 580, 7 A.3d at 564 (quoting Solorzano, 397 Md. at 668, 919 A.2d at 656). Notably, in considering our jurisprudence in this area, however, the central issue was not whether the plea agreement itself existed, as is the case here, but rather a consideration of what the specific terms of the agreement were and whether those terms had been violated. See, e.g., Cuffley, 416 Md. at 573-75, 7 A.3d at 560 (considering whether a judge, who accepted plea on the record, could sentence defendant to fifteen years in prison, with all but six years suspended, when the terms of the plea stated defendant was to be sentenced "within the guidelines[,]" meaning sentenced to between four and six years of imprisonment); see also Solorzano, 397 Md. at 664-67, 919 A.2d at 654-55 (determining whether court violated terms of plea agreement when defendant pled guilty, and the State recommended he receive
Unlike the aforementioned cases, we must determine whether the plea agreement remains intact, and therefore enforceable, in a de novo circuit court proceeding. The Court of Special Appeals' decision in Rios v. State, 186 Md.App. 354, 974 A.2d 366 (2009) is instructive. In Rios, the Court of Special Appeals considered whether the parties had reached a plea agreement during plea negotiations.
Rios, 186 Md.App. at 367, 974 A.2d at 373 (quoting Brockman, 277 Md. at 697, 357 A.2d at 382-83) (citations omitted). The Court of Special Appeals concluded,
Id. at 367, 974 A.2d at 374.
Similar to Rios, there is no evidence in the case at bar that Petitioner detrimentally relied on the existence of the alleged plea agreement. In her initial appearance in the circuit court on June 2, 2015, Petitioner pled not guilty to the charge of theft under $100 and requested a jury trial. Although Petitioner alleges the State's action in recommending a harsher sentence after she noted a de novo appeal violated her due process rights, as discussed infra, the State's conduct prior to the de novo proceeding does not unconstitutionally deter her from exercising her statutory right to appeal her conviction. There is no reason, therefore, to depart from the standard principles of contract law and our holding, supra, that the plea agreement only applies
d. Limitations on the Due Process Right to Avoid Prosecutorial Vindictiveness
Petitioner argues that allowing the State to recommend a harsher sentence on de novo appeal poses a "realistic likelihood of `vindictiveness'" that violates her due process right to appeal her District Court conviction. Petitioner relies on two United States Supreme Court cases in support: Blackledge v. Perry, 417 U.S. 21, 94 S.Ct. 2098, 40 L.Ed.2d 628 (1974), and Thigpen v. Roberts, 468 U.S. 27, 104 S.Ct. 2916, 82 L.Ed.2d 23 (1984). In both cases, the Supreme Court considered whether a defendant's due process rights were violated after the defendant was convicted of misdemeanor charges in an inferior court,
In Blackledge, the defendant was convicted in North Carolina's district court for misdemeanor assault with a deadly weapon after an altercation with an inmate in a North Carolina penitentiary. See Blackledge, 417 U.S. at 22, 94 S.Ct. at 2099-2100. The defendant subsequently noted a de novo appeal to the county superior court. Id. at 22, 94 S.Ct. at 2100. Prior to the de novo proceeding, the prosecutor obtained an indictment from a grand jury charging the defendant with felony assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill and inflict serious bodily injury, based on the same conduct that underlies the misdemeanor conviction. Id. at 23, 94 S.Ct. at 2100. The defendant pled guilty in the Superior Court and was sentenced to a term of five to seven years in the penitentiary. Id.
In concluding the prosecutor's actions were unconstitutional, the Blackledge Court noted that "the [d]ue [p]rocess [c]lause is not offended by all possibilities of increased punishment upon retrial after appeal, but only those that pose a realistic likelihood of `vindictiveness.'" Blackledge, 417 U.S. at 27, 94 S.Ct. at 2102. The Court opined, however, that the prosecutor's action in that case posed a "realistic likelihood of `vindictiveness[,]'" and was thus unconstitutional, because
Id. at 27-28, 94 S.Ct. at 2102. The Blackledge Court also emphasized that,
Id. at 28, 94 S.Ct. at 2102-03.
In Thigpen, the defendant was convicted of four misdemeanors in a justice of the peace court resulting from a vehicular accident caused by the defendant. See Thigpen, 468 U.S. at 28, 104 S.Ct. at 2917. The defendant noted a de novo appeal to the circuit court. Id. at 28, 104 S.Ct. at 2918. Prior to the de novo proceeding, the prosecutor obtained an indictment for felony manslaughter based on the same conduct as the misdemeanor convictions. Id. at 28, 104 S.Ct. at 2918. A jury subsequently convicted the defendant of manslaughter, and the defendant was sentenced to twenty years in prison. Id. The Supreme Court affirmed its decision in Blackledge, and held that Blackledge "established a presumption of unconstitutional vindictiveness" when a prosecutor charges a defendant with a harsher crime after the defendant notes a de novo appeal from a misdemeanor conviction. See Thigpen, 468 U.S. at 30, 104 S.Ct. at 2918.
Petitioner argues that a prosecutor's decision to seek a harsher sentence after a defendant notes a de novo appeal to the circuit court is analogous to the factual circumstances underlying Blackledge and Thigpen because it is another means of "upping the ante" to discourage Petitioner from appealing her conviction. See Blackledge, 417 U.S. at 27-28, 94 S.Ct. at 2102. Paraphrasing the Blackledge Court, Petitioner argues that "[a] person convicted of an offense is entitled to pursue his [or her] statutory right to a trial de novo, without apprehension that the State will retaliate by recommending a harsher sentence, thus subjecting him [or her] to a significantly increased potential period of incarceration." (internal quotation marks omitted).
As the State argues, there is a key factual difference between Blackledge and Thigpen, and the case at bar. In Blackledge and Thigpen, the prosecutor took unilateral action in obtaining new felony indictments against the defendants once they noted their de novo appeals. See Blackledge, 417 U.S. at 23, 94 S.Ct. at 2100; Thigpen, 468 U.S. at 29, 104 S.Ct. at 2918. Here, because we concluded, supra, the District Court plea agreement was unenforceable on de novo appeal, the prosecutor's recommendation of thirty days' incarceration after Petitioner noted the de novo appeal is a plea offer that Petitioner is free to accept or reject. If Petitioner rejects the State's plea offer, the offer dissipates and the State will be forced to take Petitioner's case to trial and prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she committed the alleged theft. This factual scenario is more analogous to cases relied on by the State: Bordenkircher v. Hayes, 434 U.S. 357, 98 S.Ct. 663, 54 L.Ed.2d 604 (1978), United States v. Goodwin, 457 U.S. 368, 102 S.Ct. 2485, 73 L.Ed.2d 74 (1982), and our holding in State v. Adams, 293 Md. 665, 447 A.2d 833 (1982).
In Bordenkircher, the defendant was indicted for uttering a forged instrument — an offense that was punishable by a term of two to ten years in prison. Bordenkircher, 434 U.S. at 358, 98 S.Ct. at 665. During subsequent plea negotiations, the prosecutor offered to recommend a sentence of five years in prison if the defendant agreed to plead guilty. Id. The prosecutor also stated during the plea negotiations that if the defendant did not plead guilty, the prosecutor would seek an indictment under Kentucky's habitual criminal act, thereby subjecting the defendant to a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment due to the
The Supreme Court noted in Bordenkircher that the due process violations in cases like Blackledge, "lay not in the possibility that a defendant might be deterred from the exercise of a legal right, ... but rather in the danger that the State might be retaliating against the accused for lawfully attacking his [or her] conviction." Id. at 363, 98 S.Ct. at 667-68 (citations omitted). The Bordenkircher Court held, however, that "in the `give-and-take' of plea bargaining, there is no such element of punishment or retaliation so long as the accused is free to accept or reject the prosecution's offer." Id. at 363, 98 S.Ct. at 668.
The Bordenkircher Court also determined that "[w]hile confronting a defendant with the risk of more severe punishment clearly may have a `discouraging effect on the defendant's assertion of his [or her] trial rights, the imposition of these difficult choices [is] an inevitable' — and permissible — `attribute of any legitimate system which tolerates and encourages the negotiation of pleas.'" Id. at 364, 98 S.Ct. at 668 (quoting Chaffin v. Stynchcombe, 412 U.S. 17, 31, 93 S.Ct. 1977, 1985, 36 L.Ed.2d 714 (1973)). The Supreme Court concluded that "by tolerating and encouraging the negotiation of pleas, this Court has necessarily accepted as constitutionally legitimate the simple reality that the prosecutor's interest at the bargaining table is to persuade the defendant to forgo his right to plead not guilty." Id. The Bordenkircher Court also concluded that
Id. at 364-65, 98 S.Ct. at 669. Ultimately, the Supreme Court held that
Id. (footnote omitted).
In Goodwin, the defendant was charged with several misdemeanors, including assault, for striking a police officer with his car in an attempt to flee after being stopped for speeding. Goodwin, 457 U.S. at 370, 102 S.Ct. at 2487. The defendant was arrested and arraigned before a United States Magistrate, but fled the jurisdiction prior to trial. Id. Three years later, after he was apprehended, the defendant's case was assigned to a Magistrate.
In declining to apply a presumption of vindictiveness to the actions of the Assistant United States Attorney, the Supreme Court concluded that
Id. at 372-73, 102 S.Ct. at 2488. The Goodwin Court noted that Blackledge
Id. at 381, 102 S.Ct. at 2492-93 (citations omitted). The Supreme Court held,
Id. at 381-82, 102 S.Ct. at 2493 (footnotes omitted).
In State v. Adams, the defendant was charged in the Maryland District Court with one count of conspiracy to violate the gambling laws. Adams, 293 Md. at 666, 447 A.2d at 833. The defendant subsequently sought to dismiss the charging document on the ground it was not signed by a judicial officer as required under the Maryland Rules. Id. at 667, 447 A.2d at 833. The defendant's motion was granted, but the following day the State filed a new charging document against the defendant that contained three separate counts of conspiracy to violate the gambling laws. Id. at 667, 447 A.2d at 833-34. The defendant again moved to dismiss the charges, alleging the prosecutor acted vindictively in filing three separate conspiracy charges against him after he had successfully moved to dismiss the earlier single-count charging document. Id. at 667, 447 A.2d at 834. The defendant argued that he had exercised a constitutional or procedural right in having the first charging document dismissed and the institution of the new charging document — increasing the charges against him — gave rise to the appearance of vindictiveness, together with a realistic apprehension of such vindictiveness, in contravention of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Id. The trial judge subsequently dismissed the defendant's motion because he found "there is [no] evidence of any realistic apprehension that the prosecutor ... retaliated because the defendant ... exercised his right to question the legality of the original charging document." Id. at 668, 447 A.2d at 834.
Relying on Goodwin, we concluded that "a defendant's ability to exercise his constitutional rights must not be chilled by heavy-handed prosecutorial conduct. It is equally true, however, that good faith alterations in a prosecutor's approach to a case should not automatically abrogate the entire potential culpability of a defendant." Id. at 674, 447 A.2d at 837. We also acknowledged that "[d]ue process commands courts to imbue the criminal justice system with fairness[,] [but] it does not mandate inappropriate and inflexible palliatives." Id. at 675, 447 A.2d at 838. Ultimately, we held that "[the defendant] has not presented any objective evidence of bad faith on the part of the State. [The defendant's] subjective fears, standing alone, are hardly sufficient in light of Goodwin's rejection of a pretrial presumption of vindictiveness." Id. at 674, 447 A.2d at 837-38.
Because we determined, supra, that the District Court plea agreement was no longer enforceable once Petitioner noted her de novo appeal to the circuit court, the procedural posture of this case is a pretrial, rather than post-trial, proceeding. The record reflects that after Petitioner noted a de novo appeal, she pled not guilty, and the State subsequently offered Petitioner a new plea whereby, in exchange for her guilty plea, the State would recommend that Petitioner serve thirty days' incarceration. Petitioner is free to accept or reject the State's plea offer, and if she rejects it, the State bears the burden of proving at trial that she committed the alleged theft. As the Supreme Court noted in Bordenkircher, in the "give-and-take of plea bargaining, there is no such element of punishment or retaliation[,] so long as the accused is free to accept or reject the prosecution's offer." 434 U.S. at 363, 98 S.Ct. at 668 (emphasis added). Here, because Petitioner retains the power to accept or reject the State's plea offer there is no "realistic fear of `vindictiveness" from the prosecutor's actions.
Additionally, as we observed in Goodwin, "[a] prosecutor should remain
In summary, we hold that under the basic contract and due process principles that govern plea agreements, the District Court plea agreement did not extend to the de novo circuit court proceeding. We also hold that, although Petitioner's claim regarding her due process right to avoid prosecutorial vindictiveness in noting a de novo appeal was not preserved, under Maryland Rule 8-131(a) we may still consider Petitioner's claim because doing so will not unfairly prejudice either party and considering the issue will provide important guidance on the constitutionality of the prosecutor's conduct during plea bargaining in Maryland's two-tier trial system. Finally, we hold that because Petitioner was free to accept or reject the State's new plea offer, the prosecutor's actions did not generate an unconstitutional "fear of vindictiveness" that contravened the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
395 U.S. at 725, 89 S.Ct. at 2080. The Court also held that for a judge to impose a more severe sentence on a defendant after a new trial, the judge must state reasons for the increased punishment. Id. at 726, 89 S.Ct. at 2081. Pearce was subsequently overturned by Alabama v. Smith, 490 U.S. 794, 109 S.Ct. 2201, 104 L.Ed.2d 865 (1989) (holding that no presumption of vindictiveness arises when the first sentence was based upon a guilty plea, and the second sentence follows a trial).