Warnken, LLC Attorneys at Law, Attorneys & Lawyers, Pikesville, MD

Cuffley v. State

Cuffley v. State, 416 Md. 568 (October 28, 2010)

Petitioner pled guilty to robbery pursuant to a plea agreement in which the State would recommend a sentence within the guidelines.  Together, Defense counsel and the State had determined this to be four to eight years, with sentencing deferred until the disposition of a probation violation that was pending at the time of the plea hearing.  At sentencing, the court agreed to bind itself to the terms of the plea.  The court sentenced the Defendant to 15 years incarceration, with all but six years suspended.  Four years later, the defendant brought a motion to correct an illegal sentence, arguing that the sentence violated the plea bargain because it was not within the guidelines.  The trial court reasoned that the plea referred to “time served” within the guidelines, and that the decision to give more time on a suspended sentence was within the discretion of the court.  The CSA affirmed in an unreported opinion.  The COA held that the sentence was illegal. The COA found that extrinsic evidence may not be used to determine the terms of the agreement.  Rule 453 requires that the Defendant be informed of the terms of the plea prior to sentencing, and only the transcript of the plea agreement may be consulted in determining the Defendant’s understanding of the plea.  The COA noted that the test for a defendant’s knowledge of the plea is an objective one: what would a reasonable person think that the terms were, based on the record?

Any ambiguities are resolved in the Defendant’s favor.