Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Maryland Court of Appeals

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the court of special appeals affirming Defendant's conviction of two counts of criminal attempt for his refusal to testify in a murder trial, holding that Defendant failed to proffer sufficient evidence of duress to generate the defense of duress. Defendant was called to testify in a murder trial but refused to answer any questions on the basis of the privilege against self-incrimination. The court subsequently issued an order immunizing Defendant and directing him to testify, but Defendant continued to refuse to answer questions. Defendant was subsequently charged with contempt. During the trial, Defendant attempted to raise the common law defense of duress. The trial court rejected the defense as a matter of law and found Defendant guilty of contempt. Defendant appealed, arguing that duress can be a defense to a contempt charge for a refusal to testify. The court of special appeals affirmed. The Court of Appeals agreed, holding that even assuming the defense of duress was available to Defendant, Defendant's proffered evidence failed to generate the defense of duress because the alleged threat was not "present, imminent, and impending." View "Howell v. State" on Justia Law

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In this defamation action, the Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of the court of special appeals reversing the trial court's judgment granting judgment at the end of Plaintiff's case in favor of Defendants, holding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that a plaintiff in a defamation action, who is also the defendant in a related criminal case, is not entitled to a stay of the civil lawsuit she initiated pending resolution of the criminal case. Plaintiff filed a defamation complaint against Defendants alleging defamation, alleging that Defendants made false statement to the police that Plaintiff stole money from them and committed identity fraud. Plaintiff was later indicted for the same events underlying the defamation action. Plaintiff moved to stay the civil action, asserting that Plaintiff's testimony in the civil action would implicate her constitutional right against self-incrimination in her criminal case. The circuit court denied the motion and later granted judgment for Defendants on all counts. The court of special appeals vacated the judgment, holding that the circuit court abused its discretion in denying Plaintiff's motion to stay the proceedings. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the circuit court's decision to deny the stay was not an abuse of discretion. View "Moser v. Heffington" on Justia Law

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The Court of Chancery reversed the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals affirming the judgment of the circuit court denying Defendant's motion to suppress cocaine on the grounds that officers' warrantless search of Defendant's person was illegal, holding that the same facts and circumstances that justify a search of an automobile do not necessarily justify an arrest and search incident thereto. On appeal, Defendant challenged the denial of his motion to suppress, arguing that the officers lacked probable cause to believe that Defendant possessed ten grams or more of marijuana. The Court of Appeals held (1) a person enjoys a heightened expectation of privacy in his or her person as compared to the diminished expectation of privacy he or she has in an automobile; and (2) the arrest and search of Defendant was unreasonable because the record did not suggest that possession of a joint and the odor of burnt marijuana gave the police probable cause to believe Defendant was in possession of a criminal amount of that substance. View "Pacheco v. State" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the Court of Special Appeals that Defendant's new sentence imposed after a remand was illegal as "more severe" than his original sentence, holding that two sentences of equal maximum length but with different parole eligibility dates are not equivalent to one another. Defendant was convicted of several crimes and received an aggregate sentence of eighteen years in prison. The Court of Special Appeals vacated the sentence, concluding that the kidnapping and assault convictions should have merged for sentencing purposes. On remand, the circuit court resentenced Defendant to eighteen years in prison for the kidnapping offense alone. Under Defendant's original sentence, Defendant would have been eligible for parole after seven and one-half years, but under the new sentence, he would not become eligible for parole until he had served nine years in prison. The Court of Appeals held that the later sentence was more severe than the earlier sentence due to the later parole eligibility date and that, therefore, Defendant must be resentenced. View "State v. Thomas" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals affirming the ruling of the circuit court denying Defendant's motion to suppress a gun as evidence and convicting Defendant of one count of possessing a regulated firearm after having been convicted of a crime of violence, holding that the suppression court erred in denying Defendant's motion to suppress. Three police officers were on patrol looking to discover guns, drugs, or other contraband when they discovered Defendant sitting in the driver's seat of a vehicle that was illegally parked outside of his home. The officers approached the vehicle, frisked Defendant, and arrested Defendant after confirming that he possessed a handgun. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the State failed to establish that the frisk of Defendant was reasonable under the circumstances and that the attenuation doctrine did not serve to render the evidence admissible. View "Thornton v. State" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the court of special appeals affirming Defendant's sentence, holding that the State's belated notice to Defendant of his subsequent offender status was a procedural deficiency subject to harmless error review and that Defendant was not prejudiced beyond a reasonable doubt due to the belated notice. Defendant was convicted of driving while impaired by alcohol, reckless driving, negligent driving, and failure to control speed to avoid a collision. Prior to trial, the State served Defendant with a notice of his subsequent offender status as required by Maryland Rule 4-245, but the notice was sent five days later than required by Maryland Rule 4-245. At sentencing, the circuit court enhanced Defendant's sentence as a subsequent offender. Defendant did not object to the punishment enhancement. The court of appeals affirmed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) the failure to give timely notice was a procedural error and did not give rise to an illegal sentence; (2) Defendant was not prejudiced by the belated notice; and (3) Defendant's ineffective assistance of counsel claim should be considered within a post-conviction proceeding. View "Bailey 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 circuit court denying Defendant's petition for postconviction relief alleging ineffective assistance of counsel, holding that Defendant proved that his trial counsel's performance was deficient but failed to establish prejudice. Defendant was found guilty of eleven charges arising out of an armed robbery. After an unsuccessful appeal, Defendant petitioned for postconviction relief, arguing that trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by not moving to strike a juror for cause and by not using a peremptory challenge against the juror. The circuit court denied the petition, and the court of special appeals affirmed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) Defendant's trial counsel's conduct fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, but the presumption of prejudice did not apply here; and (2) Defendant failed to prove prejudice under the circumstances of this case. View "Ramirez v. State" on Justia Law

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In these consolidated appeals, the Court of Appeals held that the Justice Reinvestment Act of 2016 (JRA), codified as Md. Code Crim. Proc. 6-223(d), does not grant probationers found to have committed a technical violation of probation the right to appeal directly to the court of special appeals from a circuit court's order of violation of probation and resulting sentence that exceeds the presumptive limits of incarceration for a technical violation but, rather, probation violators in this position must seek appellate review by application for leave to appeal. Petitioners Tomekia Conaway and Luke Daniel Johnson violated the conditions of their probation. The circuit court revoked Petitioners' probation and sentenced them to terms of incarceration. At issue in both cases was whether Petitioners could proceed with an appeal by way of a notice of appeal or, rather, an application for leave to appeal. The Court of Appeals held that Petitioners had no right of direct appeal and must file an application for leave to appeal. View "Conaway v. State" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the court of special appeals reversing Defendant's conviction, holding that the trial court erred in admitting irrelevant evidence and abused its discretion in weighing the proportionality of a statement made by Defendant indicating his intention to sell cocaine, and the error was not harmless. The trial court weighed the probative value and prejudicial effect of the contested portion of Defendant's previously redacted statement and ultimately admitted the unredacted statement, concluding that defense counsel's remarks triggered the opening the door doctrine. Defendant was ultimately convicted of involuntary manslaughter and second-degree assault. The court of special appeals reversed the trial court's ruling that the door had been opened and held that the trial court's error in allowing the statement into evidence was not harmless. The Court of Appeals affirmed and remanded the case for a new trial, holding (1) the trial court erred when it determined that defense counsel opened the door to admitting Defendant's statement based upon a comment made in her opening statement; and (2) admitting Defendant's statement was legal error and an abuse of discretion. View "State v. Heath" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed an administrative law judge's (ALJ) finding that Petitioner was responsible for indicated child neglect under Md. Code Ann. Fam. Law (Fam. Law) 5-701(s), holding that intent or scienter is not an element of child neglect under Fam. Law 5-701(s). Defendant forgot to drop his seventeen-month-old son off at daycare before going to work. The child was found in the car more than six hours later and pronounced dead at the scene. St. Mary's County Department of Social Services rendered a finding of indicated child neglect against Defendant. An ALJ concluded that the Department had established by a preponderance of the evidence that the finding of indicated child neglect was supported by credible evidence and consistent with the law. The circuit court affirmed. At issue on appeal was whether "neglect" under Fam. Law 5-701(s) requires proof of an element of scienter. The Court of Special Appeals held that the statute does not require scienter. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the plain language of the statute excludes intent as an element of child neglect. View "Junek v. St. Mary's County Department of Social Services" on Justia Law