Motions to modify or reduce a sentence in Maryland are extremely valuable tools to help improve a defendant’s situation. A motion to modify can be used to reduce a prison sentence. Reducing a long sentence may win the defendant's immediate freedom or get an inmate closer to his or her parole eligibility date. A motion to modify can be used to remove a conviction and change the final disposition of a case to what is called “probation before judgment.” Striking the conviction may allow a defendant to get the case expunged from his or her official record. A modification motion is sometimes used after the defendant has served his or her sentence and probation. For example, some individuals need to have the official record of the sentence changed to assist with immigration matters. Many people seek to have an old sentence changed so they can own and possess a firearm. However, there are some important timing issues regarding a motion for modification.
For traffic and criminal cases in Maryland state court, a motion to modify a sentence or final disposition in a case must be filed pursuant to Maryland Rule 4-345 within 90 days of the sentence.
For any sentence imposed in Maryland state court after July 1, 2004, a court can modify a sentence only within five years from the date of the original sentencing. After five years, the sentencing judge usually loses authority to modify the sentence.
For sentences imposed before July 1, 2004, the five year limitation on ruling on a motion for modification of a sentence does not apply. By way of a Rules Order issued by the Court of Appeals on May 11, 2004, Maryland’s highest court declared that: “[T]he rule changes adopted by this Court shall govern the courts of this State and all parties and their attorneys in all actions and proceedings, and shall take effect and apply to all sentences imposed on or after July 1, 2004.” However, to ask for a modification of sentence for a case prior to July 1, 2004, it is still necessary that the defendant filed motion for modification within 90 days of his or her sentence.
Usually the modification process is a two-step process. First, a timely motion to preserve the defendant's right to modify a sentence must be filed within 90 days. The judge might immediately deny this motion. In most cases, however, the judge will allow the motion to be held in the file until such time that the defendant asks for a hearing. Then, the defendant and his or her counsel have to decide when to ask for a hearing at which the judge can change the sentence
The timing of when to ask for a modification hearing is important. If a judge denies a modification request, the defendant is usually barred from having a second or subsequent modification request considered by the court. If the defendant asks for a modification hearing too early, the judge may not be inclined to reduce a sentence that he or she just imposed. Judges also like to have a period of time following the sentence to evaluate how the defendant performs. If the defendant performs well in jail or on probation (and in other aspects of life), a judge will be more inclined to reduce or modify the sentence.
The technicalities of the sentence modification process are among of the biggest reasons to have the assistance of experienced counsel in any criminal or traffic case in Maryland. Even if you think the outcome of your case is pretty good when you walk out of the courtroom, you may one day want to make that outcome even better. You may also want to one day get the case off your official record. A motion to modify a sentence may be an essential step in that effort. Yet, defendants and attorneys often fail to consider this important tool.
If no motion for modification was filed in your case, there may still be some opportunities to get a sentence reduced. For example, at the conclusion of a sentencing, the defendant must be advised of his or her right to modify the sentence. If that was not done, a court may give a defendant the right to file a belated motion for modification.
Be aware that if a defendant wants to modify a term or condition of probation, he or she may do so even if no modification motion was filed within 90 days of the sentence pursuant to Rule 4-345. A separate rule, Maryland Rule 4-346 allows a party to file a motion at anytime "during the period of probation" to "modify, clarify, or terminate any condition of probation, change its duration, or impose additional conditions."
If you want or need to have a sentence reduced, or a conviction removed from your record, consider calling us at 301-251-9001.