Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Maryland Court of Appeals
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The Court of Appeals held that Md. Code Crim. Proc. (CP) 3-121(e), which sets forth the process for issuing a hospital warrant and recommitment pending a hearing on a petition for revocation or modification, does not violate due process under either the United States Constitution or the Maryland Declaration of Rights. Upon pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter, Appellant was found not criminally responsible and committed to the Health Department. After Appellant was conditionally released pursuant to court order the State filed a petition for revocation or modification of her conditional release on the basis that she had violated a condition of her release. The circuit court issued a hospital warrant, acting pursuant to CP 3-121. Appellant was subsequently recommitted to a mental health facility in anticipation of a required hearing. Appellant filed a petition for habeas corpus arguing that recommitment of a person alleged to have violated conditional release must include a finding that the committed person was currently danger to self or to the person or property of others. The habeas court denied the petition. The court of special appeals affirmed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that CP 3-121 appropriately balances the interests of society against a committed individual's conditional liberty interest. View "Simms v. Maryland Department of Health" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of the court of special appeals affirming Defendant's conviction of first-degree murder and other offenses, holding that this Court's holding as to voir dire questions in Twining v. State, 198 A.2d 291 (Md. 1964), is based on outdated reasoning and has been superseded by significant changes in the law and is hereby overruled. In this case, Defendant requested, unsuccessfully, that the circuit court ask during voir dire whether any prospective jurors were unwilling or unable to follow jury instructions on the presumption of innocence, the burden of proof, and the defendant's right to testify. The Court of Appeals held (1) to the extent the Court of Appeals held in Twining that it is inappropriate to ask on voir dire questions concerning the presumption of innocence, the burden of proof, and a defendant's right to remain silent, the holding in Twining is overruled; (2) on request, during voir dire, a trial court may ask the questions at issue; and (3) absent additional circumstances, the status of a State's witness as an undocumented immigrant, or the existence of a deportation order applicable to the witness, do not show the character of the witness for untruthfulness or demonstrate a motive to testify falsely. View "Kazadi v. State" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed Defendant's conviction for murder and firearms offenses, holding that the administrative judge did not abuse his discretion in finding good cause for the continuance of the trial date. Under the Hicks rule, a criminal trial in a circuit court must commence within 180 days of the first appearance of the defendant or defense counsel in the circuit court. This deadline is known as the Hicks date. A continuance of the trial beyond the Hicks date may be granted only for good cause. Here, the administrative judge found good cause to postpone Defendant's trial from the original trial date based on the State's need to provide additional discovery to the defense. Defendant's trial began approximately forty days after the Hicks date, but the court believed that the deadline under the Hicks rule was tolled for the period of time during which evidence was at a lab for DNA analysis. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) the "Hicks rule" does not incorporate a mechanism for tolling or extending the Hicks date; but (2) the administrative judge properly found good cause for the continuance, and Defendant did not carry his burden of demonstrate that there was an inordinate delay in the new trial date. View "Tunnell v. State" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the circuit court affirming the decision of the administrative law judge (ALJ) concluding that an officer did not have reasonable grounds to believe that Respondent was driving or attempting to drive a motor vehicle while impaired, holding that the ALJ erred in imposing his credibility determinations and inferences to make the legal determination at issue. Following a traffic infraction, the officer in this case approached the vehicle, observed Respondent sitting in the driver's seat, and smelled alcohol on her breath and person. The officer requested that Respondent take an alcohol concentration test. Respondent refused to submit to the breath test, and the officers confiscated her driver's license. The ALJ took "no action" on the order of suspension, and Respondent's driving privileges were reinstated. The circuit court affirmed. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the detaining officer had reasonable grounds to suspect Respondent was driving or attempting to drive while impaired or under the influence of alcohol. View "Motor Vehicle Administration v. Medvedeff" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of the court of special appeals affirming the judgment of the circuit court granting Defendant's petition for postconviction relief and ordering a new trial on the ground that Defendant's trial counsel provided ineffective assistance of counsel by not requesting an alibi jury instruction, holding that the circumstance that Defendant's trial counsel did not request an alibi jury instruction did not prejudice Defendant. At issue was whether Defendant satisfied, under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), his burden of proving that he was prejudiced when his trial counsel did not request, and the trial court did not give, an alibi jury instruction where purported alibi witnesses testified at trial. The Court of Appeals concluded that Defendant was not prejudiced because none of the purported alibi witnesses' testimony indicated that Defendant could not have been at the murder scene, and the circumstance that the circuit court gave other instructions regarding the State's burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt diminished the claim of prejudice. View "State v. Mann" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals determining that, to be entitled to habeas corpus relief under Md. Code Ann. Cts. & Jud. Proc. (CJ) 3-702(a), a person must be physically restrained within Maryland and that Petitioner was not entitled to habeas corpus relief in this case because he was not physically restrained within the State, holding that because Petitioner filed his habeas corpus when he was not significantly restrained in Maryland he was not eligible to seek habeas corpus relief pursuant to CJ 3-702(a). Petitioner was found guilty of fourth-degree sex offense and placed on probation. The district court later found that Petitioner had violated his probation and modified the conditions of probation to be "unsupervised" so that Petitioner could move from Maryland to Michigan. Thereafter, Petitioner filed his habeas corpus petition. The circuit court denied the petition. The Court of Special Appeals dismissed Petitioner's appeal because Petitioner was neither physically restrained nor within the State when he filed his petition. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that, under CJ 3-702(a), to be eligible to seek habeas corpus relief, a person must be committed detained, confined, or restrained in the State. View "Sabisch v. Moyer" on Justia Law

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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