Articles Posted in Maryland Court of Appeals

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The Court of Appeals here adopted the “prison mailbox rule” - under which the papers or pleadings of unrepresented, incarcerated litigants are deemed “filed” when formally delivered to prison authorities for mailing to the circuit court - in the postconviction context and applied it to the case at bar. Petitioner, who was unrepresented and incarcerated at the time of the relevant events, testified that he delivered a petition for postconviction relief to prison authorities three days before a statutory ten-year filing deadline. Prison authorities mailed the petition to the circuit court two days later, and the petition arrived and was date-stamped by the clerk one day after the deadline. The circuit court rejected the petition as untimely. The court of special appeals affirmed. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding (1) this Court hereby adopts the prison mailbox rule; and (2) as applied to Petitioner, Petitioner’s petition for post-conviction relief was timely filed when he delivered it to prison authorities at least two days before the limitations period expired. The Court remanded the case with directions that the circuit court accept the petition as timely filed and proceed to consider the merits of the petition. View "Hackney v. State" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals, which held that the police did not have probable cause to search the trunk of a car owned and driven by Respondent. The suppression court denied Respondent’s motion to suppress, ruling that, under the totality of the circumstances, the officers had reasonable suspicion that the individuals in the vehicle were involved in criminal activity, permitting the continued detention, and that by the time the officers searched the trunk of Respondent’s vehicle they had amassed probable cause - based in part on drug evidence found on the person of Respondent’s front-seat passenger - to believe the trunk contained evidence of drug-related activity. The Court of Special Appeals reversed. The Court of Appeals vacated the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals, holding that the intermediate appellate court failed to review, in their entirety, the facts and circumstances that led the police to search the trunk of Respondent’s car and instead isolated certain facts while ignoring or minimizing others. View "State v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals, which held that the police did not have probable cause to search the trunk of a car owned and driven by Respondent. The suppression court denied Respondent’s motion to suppress, ruling that, under the totality of the circumstances, the officers had reasonable suspicion that the individuals in the vehicle were involved in criminal activity, permitting the continued detention, and that by the time the officers searched the trunk of Respondent’s vehicle they had amassed probable cause - based in part on drug evidence found on the person of Respondent’s front-seat passenger - to believe the trunk contained evidence of drug-related activity. The Court of Special Appeals reversed. The Court of Appeals vacated the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals, holding that the intermediate appellate court failed to review, in their entirety, the facts and circumstances that led the police to search the trunk of Respondent’s car and instead isolated certain facts while ignoring or minimizing others. View "State v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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In the context of a probable cause determination, the issue of a drug detection dog’s reliability is a legal question to be reviewed de novo. Sergeant Christopher Lamb initiated a traffic stop of a vehicle that Petitioner had been driving. A drug detection dog arrived at the scene of the traffic stop, scanned the vehicle, and alerted to it. Sergeant Lamb searched the vehicle and found drugs inside. The circuit court determined that the drug detection dog was reliable. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) the ultimate question of probable cause to conduct a warrantless search of a vehicle based on a drug detection dog’s alert is reviewed de novo, but the issue of a drug detection dog’s reliability is a factual question, and accordingly, an appellate court reviews for clear error a trial court’s determination as to whether a drug detection dog is, or is not, reliable; and (2) the circuit court in this case did not clearly err in determining that the drug detection dog was reliable, and under the totality of the circumstances, that the arresting officer had probable cause for the search. View "Grimm v. State" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals reversed Defendant’s convictions arising out of a home invasion and robbery, arguing that the trial court erred in giving a missing witness instruction in this case. None of the victims of the crime at issue in this case identified Defendant as a participant in the robbery. Defendant testified that he had been at his mother’s home on the night of the robbery, but his mother did not testify. At the prosecutor’s request, the trial court gave a missing witness instruction that advised the jury that it could infer from the mother’s absence that she would have testified unfavorably to Defendant. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for entry of an order vacating Defendant’s convictions, holding that the trial court’s decision to give a missing witness instruction in this case was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. View "Harris v. State" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals reversed Defendant’s convictions arising out of a home invasion and robbery, arguing that the trial court erred in giving a missing witness instruction in this case. None of the victims of the crime at issue in this case identified Defendant as a participant in the robbery. Defendant testified that he had been at his mother’s home on the night of the robbery, but his mother did not testify. At the prosecutor’s request, the trial court gave a missing witness instruction that advised the jury that it could infer from the mother’s absence that she would have testified unfavorably to Defendant. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for entry of an order vacating Defendant’s convictions, holding that the trial court’s decision to give a missing witness instruction in this case was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. View "Harris v. State" on Justia Law

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At issue was whether victim impact evidence in the form of a video displaying more than one hundred photographs of Defendant’s victims, with accompanying music, is permissible at a sentencing hearing. Defendant entered an Alford plea to two counts of first-degree murder, one count of robbery, and one count of child kidnapping. During sentencing, Defendant moved to exclude a video with approximately 115 photographs of the two victims set to background music. The sentencing judge allowed the video to be played. The Court of Appeals held that showing the video at the sentencing hearing did not violate Defendant’s constitutional rights. Specifically, the Court held (1) a sentencing judge has discretion to permit any additional form of victim impact evidence outside the constraints of Md. Code Ann. Crim. Proc. (“CP”) 11-402 and CP 11-403; (2) all prepared victim impact evidence, not including victim impact testimony, must be limited to the content prescribed under CP 11-402(e); (3) the Eighth Amendment does not prohibit a sentencing judge from considering victim impact evidence at a defendant’s noncapital sentencing proceeding; and (4) Defendant’s Fourteenth Amendment due process rights were not violated because the disputed victim impact evidence did not inflame the passions of the sentencing judge more than the facts of the crime. View "Lopez v. State" on Justia Law

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The trial court in this criminal case did not err in admitting the testimony from the State’s cellular communication expert, Allen Hagy, and did not err in admitting evidence of Defendant’s silence during an investigation by his automobile insurer that was related to and concurrent with the police investigation in this case. After a third trial, Defendant was convicted of crimes associated with the murder of LaToya Taylor. The Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions, holding (1) the trial court properly exercised its discretion when it found that a sufficient factual basis existed in admitting Hagy’s expert opinion testimony, and the trial court’s decision to admit the testimony was not made in an arbitrary or capricious manner; and (2) there was no clear abuse of discretion in the trial court’s ruling to admit evidence of Defendant’s silence during the investigation by Defendant’s automobile insurer. View "Santiago v. State" on Justia Law

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A conviction that is more than fifteen years old is not irrelevant as a matter of law to a character witness’ opinion about a defendant. After he was convicted for second-degree assault, Defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court improperly admitted evidence of his 1990 battery conviction. The Court of Special Appeals held that the trial court was permitted to allow the State to impeach character witnesses with evidence of Defendant’s twenty-five-year-old battery conviction where each character witness testified regarding Defendant’s reputation for peacefulness. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) the trial court did not err in deciding that the 1990 battery conviction bore some legal relevance to the character witnesses’ testimony; and (2) the probative value of the 1990 battery conviction was not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. View "Williams v. State" on Justia Law

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Data from a business record indicating locations and durations of time determined by a GPS device carried by Defendant was admissible without the need for the State to present expert testimony to explain the operation of, and science underlying, GPS devices. Defendant, an officer with the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) police, was convicted of assaulting and raping a woman after driving her home following her involvement in a traffic accident with an MTA bus. During trial, the State introduced GPS data from the mobile GPS device Defendant carried as part of his job that matched the itinerary given by the woman in her testimony. On appeal, Defendant argued that the State should have presented expert foundation testimony concerning GPS devices as a prerequisite to the admission of such evidence. The Court of Special Appeals affirmed the convictions. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the jury did not require expert testimony to understand the operation of a GPS device and the data it generated. View "Johnson v. State" on Justia Law