ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland Court of Special Appeals Wednesday ordered a new sentencing hearing for a Washington County man because he was not represented by a lawyer when his three-year prison term was imposed.
Russell Ryson Thorne Jr. of Hagerstown was convicted of breaking and entering in Washington County Circuit Court in 1994 in connection with an attempt to enter the home of his former girlfriend.
Thorne was represented by a public defender during his trial, but afterwards asked to have his lawyer removed from his case. Without a hearing, the circuit court granted Thorne’s request.
At the first sentencing hearing, Thorne appeared without a lawyer and was given a 60-day delay to find a new one. At the second hearing, Thorne was asked if he was “requesting the opportunity to proceed” and act as his own attorney. He agreed that he was.
But after he received the sentence, Thorne appealed, contending he was not told that failing to find counsel for the second hearing meant he had waived his right to a lawyer. Public Defender Melissa Moore, writing on Thorne’s behalf, pushed for a new hearing because “sentencing is a critical stage of trial where substantial rights of an accused may be affected and for which counsel must be provided.”
The court agreed, saying the rule about discharging lawyers was not properly explained to Thorne. Citing the lack of explanation as a “reversible error,” it threw out the sentence and ordered Thorne’s case back for another sentencing hearing. Neither attorney in the case returned phone calls asking for comment Wednesday. -30-