Articles Posted in Maryland Court of Appeals

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In this criminal case, the Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals affirming Defendant's conviction, holding that the circuit court abused its discretion by asking compound "strong feelings" questions during voir dire and refusing to ask properly-phrased "strong feelings" questions.. The Court of Criminal Appeals reaffirmed its holding in Pearson v. State, 86 A.3d 1232, 1235 (2014), that, on request, a trial court is required to ask a properly-phrased "strong feelings" question during voir dire and that it is improper for a trial court to ask the "strong feelings" question in compound form. The Court then held that, in this case, the circuit court abused its discretion by asking compound "strong feelings" during voir dire and that the circuit court did not cure its abuse of discretion by asking the jury properly-phrased "strong feelings" questions after the conclusion of voir dire and opening statements. View "Collins v. State" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's decision to admit text messages that Defendant sent to his wife's cell phone, holding that the confidential martial communications privilege does not attach to communications relating to child abuse. Defendant was convicted of first-degree murder, first-degree child abuse, and neglect of a minor child. On appeal, the Court of Appeals remanded the case for a new trial, holding that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting text messages between Defendant and his wife because the State did not rebut the presumption of confidentiality. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding (1) courts should narrowly construe privileges, including the marital communications privilege; (2) text messages between spouses are presumed to be confidential unless the party advocating for their admission can establish that they were not; (3) because individuals are under a legal duty to report child abuse, communications made to a spouse concerning child abuse cannot be reasonably presumed confidential; and (4) the text messages in this case were properly admitted against Defendant. View "State v. Sewell" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals reversing Defendant's conviction for accessory after the fact to murder and remanding the case for a new trial, holding that application of whether particular evidence may be admitted based on the legal principle of "opening the door" is reviewed de novo, that Defendant opened the door to otherwise inadmissible evidence, but that the State used the evidence at issue in a manner that exceeded the scope of the doctrine. In reversing, the Court of Special Appeals held that the trial court erred in permitting the State to question Defendant regarding his participation in a previous, unrelated incident during which a knife had been brandished because the door had not been opened for questioning by the State. The Court of Appeals affirmed on other grounds, holding that, in applying a de novo standard of review, defense counsel opened the door for the State to introduce rebuttal evidence but that the State's questioning during cross-examination exceeded the scope of the open door doctrine. View "State v. Robertson" on Justia Law

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In this prosecution under environmental laws the Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals finding that Defendant was deprived of the right to the effective assistance of counsel, holding that counsel's failure to object to a non-pattern jury instruction violated the standard set forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). Defendant was charged with and convicted of "disposing of sewage in any manner which may cause pollution" and "failing to dispose of sewage in accordance with an approved permit" in violation of Md. Code Ann. Env. 9-343(a)(1) and (3) and former COMAR 26.04.0202.E, now D and former COMAR 26.04.02.02.F, now E. Defendant filed for post-conviction relief alleging that he received ineffective assistance of counsel based on trial counsel's failure to object to a "continuing violation" instruction. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the language of the statute and regulations were so plainly contrary to the State's theory that counsel's failure to object to the instruction at issue violated the Strickland standard. View "State v. Shortall" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals vacating in part the juvenile court's order and determining that the juvenile court erred in ordering $65 in restitution to rekey three household locks where the corresponding keys were stolen during an armed robbery, holding that, pursuant to the "direct result" requirement of Md. Crim. Proc. (CP) 11-603(a), the restitution award was proper. G.R. pleaded involved to charges of robbery, second-degree assault, and openly carrying a dangerous weapon. The circuit court found G.R. liable for $120 in restitution, including $65 to rekey the locks of three homes of which the keys were stolen. The Court of Appeals vacated the restitution order, concluding that the costs of rekeying the locks was not a direct result of the underlying robbery. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that G.R.'s robbery directly resulted in a substantial decrease of value of the locks because it brought into question the underlying security of the homes the stolen house keys belonged to, and therefore, the decision to rekey the locks was not an intervening act but a necessary action taken to maintain the security of the homes to which the keys belonged. View "In re G.R." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of the court of special appeals affirming in part and reversing in part the judgment of the post-conviction granting Respondent a new trial, holding that certain actions on the part of Respondent’s trial counsel did not violate Respondent’s constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel. Respondent was convicted of first-degree murder, robbery, kidnapping, and false imprisonment. Respondent later filed a petition for post-conviction relief alleging that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. The post-conviction court denied relief. The intermediate appellate remanded the case. On remand, the post-conviction court concluded that Respondent’s trial counsel’s performance was deficient and that this deficiency prejudiced Respondent. As a result, the post-conviction court vacated the convictions and granted Respondent a new trial. The court of appeals reversed in part, but the court’s ultimate disposition left the new trial granted by the circuit court in place. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that trial counsel’s deficient performance in one aspect of her representation did not prejudice Respondent within the meaning of Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). View "State v. Syed" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals affirming the trial court’s denial of Petitioner’s motion for a new trial, holding that the trial court’s error of supplying the jury with an instruction that was an incorrect statement of the law was not harmless. Petitioner was convicted of first-degree child abuse. Petitioner subsequently filed a motion for new trial on the grounds that the trial court gave a pattern jury instruction that erroneously omitted an element of the sole offense for which Petitioner was convicted. The circuit court denied the motion, concluding that the erroneous jury instruction did not have an impact on the defense’s theory of the case. The Court of Special Appeals affirmed. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the erroneous jury instruction was prejudicial error and warranted a new trial. View "Williams v. State" on Justia Law

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At issue was whether, at a criminal trial on drug charges, the introduction of valid prescriptions for controlled substances are barred by the rule against hearsay or if, instead, they are non-hearsay and admissible as a “verbal act.” The circuit court in this case granted the State’s motion to suppress introduction of any supposed prescriptions for controlled substances on hearsay grounds. The Court of Special Appeals reversed each of Defendant's convictions except for his two convictions for possession of heroin and possession with intent to distribute heroin on the basis that “[v]alid prescriptions provide the basis of a statutory defense to the charges for possession of and possession with intent to distribute methadone, alprazolam, and oxycodone.” The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that evidence of a valid prescription can fall under the category of “verbal acts,” admissible not for the truth of the matter asserted but as the basis of a statutory defense under Md. Code Ann. Crim. Law 5-601(a) and 602(2). View "State v. Young" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals affirming the ruling of the circuit court that precluded Defendant from playing video excerpts of trial court testimony during closing argument, holding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in prohibiting the use of video excerpts of trial testimony during closing argument. The Court of Special Appeals concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by excluding the video excerpts because of the genuine concern of undue delay, waste of time, and juror confusion. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the trial court’s stated concerns regarding waste of time and juror confusion were well within the bounds of its sound discretion and reason to justify the exclusion of the video excerpts. View "Cagle v. State" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the Court of Special Appeals affirming the judgment of the trial court admitting an audio-recorded conversation recovered from Defendant’s cell phone during trial and convicting him of drug- and firearm-related offenses, holding that the trial court did not err in admitting the audio-recorded conversation over Defendant’s objection. On appeal, Defendant argued that the Maryland Wiretap Act, Md. Code Ann. Cts. & Jud. Proc. 10-402, prevented admission of the recording because the unidentified speaker with whom Defendant was communicating in the recording did not consent to its interception. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that where a party to a communication consents to or participates in the interception of a communication, section 10-402(a) of the Maryland Wiretap Act does not render the intercepted communication inadmissible against the consenting party. View "Agnew v. State" on Justia Law