Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Maryland Court of Appeals
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The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the court of special appeals affirming the judgment of the circuit court convicting Defendant of second-degree assault and misconduct in office, holding that the court did not abuse its discretion in excusing for cause four prospective jurors who indicated that they would be unable to use the stairs to the jury room. In this case, the courthouse in the circuit court contained a staircase with twenty-five steps that was the only way to reach the jury room that accompanied the courtroom used for the trial. The four prospective jurors said that they would have difficulty using or would be unable to use the stairs the trial court excused them. Defendant, a correctional officer, was convicted of second-degree assault and misconduct in office. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that, under the circumstances, the circuit court did not clearly err in finding that no other courtroom was available and excusing the prospective jurors for cause. View "Trotman v. State" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the holding of the court of special appeals affirming the judgment of the juvenile court finding that sixteen-year-old S.K. was involved in distributing child pornography, holding that a minor may be adjudicated delinquent under Maryland's child pornography and obscenity statutes as the "person" who is a distributor of child pornography and a displayer of obscene matter when she is also the minor participant in the sex act. S.K. sent a video to her two best friends that showed herself performing fellatio in a male. When the video was later distributed to other students S.K. was charged under Md. Code Crim. Law (CR) 11-207(a)(4) and 11-203(b)(1)(ii). After an adjuratory hearing, the juvenile court found S.K. involved as to distributing child pornography and displaying an obscene item to a minor. The court of special appeals reversed in part, holding (1) a minor legally engaged in consensual sexual activity is not exempted from CR 11-207(a)(4); and (2) the cellphone video was not an "item" covered within CR 11-203(b)(1)(ii). The Court of Appeals reversed in part, holding (1) the plain language of CR 11-207(a)(4) subsumes situations where a minor produces and distributes pornographic material of himself or herself; and (2) S.K.'s conduct fell within that contemplated by CR 11-203. View "In re S.K." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the court of special appeals overturning Defendant's conviction based on a lack of independent evidence that would corroborate accomplice testimony, holding that Maryland's common law accomplice corroboration rule is hereby abrogated and that the jury, after proper instruction about the possible unreliability of accomplice testimony, is entitled to weigh the sufficiency of the evidence without the need for independent corroboration. Defendant was convicted of conspiracy to commit armed carjacking. The court of special appeals reversed, holding that the accomplices' testimony was not independently corroborated by other evidence, which left the remaining evidence legally insufficient to sustain Defendant's conviction. The Court of Appeals held (1) the common law accomplice corroboration rule, which requires that accomplice testimony be independently verified to sustain a conviction, is hereby abrogated and replaced with a modified common law rule; and (2) the new rule should not apply to Defendant. View "State v. Jones" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the court of special appeals vacating the circuit court's dismissal of Defendant's motion for modification of sentence without ruling on the merits, holding that where a defendant has been granted postconviction relief to file a belated motion for modification of sentence the circuit court abuses its discretion by not exercising its "fundamental jurisdiction" to revise a sentence. The postconviction court ruled that Defendant received ineffective assistance of counsel because his attorney failed timely to file a motion for modification. Accordingly, the postconviction court granted Defendant's permission to file a belated motion for modification. In compliance with the postconviction court's order, Defendant filed a motion for modification within ninety days of the postconviction court's order. The Supreme Court ruled that the trial court had revisory power over Defendant's sentence, and therefore, the court erred when it prematurely concluded that it lacked revisory power over Defendant's sentence and thereby failed to exercise its discretion to rule on the motion for modification of sentence. View "State v. Schlick" on Justia Law

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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