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 reversing Defendant's conviction of second-degree murder, holding that non-mutually admissible evidence was admitted at trial, prejudicing Defendant, and the seizure of a cell phone from Defendant's person exceeded the parameters of the Fourth Amendment and Article 26 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights. Defendant was tried in the circuit court along with a co-defendant for murder. Both defendants were convicted of second-degree murder. On appeal, Defendant argued that his trial should have been severed from that of his co-defendant since a substantial amount of the evidence against the co-defendant was not admissible against him. Defendant further argued that the trial court erred in failing to suppress a cell phone that was seized from his pocket. The Court of Appeals agreed, holding that (1) the trials should have been severed because the joint trial unfairly prejudiced Defendant, and the resulting prejudice could not be cured; and (2) in the absence of a valid search and seizure warrant for the search of Defendant's person or an applicable exception to the warrant requirement, the seizure of the cell phone was unlawful. View "State v. Zadeh" 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 denying both Appellant's request for post-conviction relief under the Post-Conviction Procedure Act (UPPA) and his petition for writ of error coram nobis, holding that Appellant was not entitled to the relief he sought. The circuit court found Appellant guilty to two counts of second-degree assault and determined that he was "not criminally responsible" (NCR). Appellant later filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief under the UPPA, arguing that his NCR plea was the functional equivalent of a guilty plea and was invalid because he did not understand the nature of the charges. He also filed a petition for writ of error corm nobis seeking to vacate the NCR judgment. The circuit court denied relief as to both petitions. The Court of Special Appeals affirmed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) Appellant was not eligible for relief under the plain language of the UPPA; and (2) Appellant was not entitled to coram nobis relief because he did not suffer significant collateral consequences. View "Peterson v. State" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals reversing the order of the circuit court declaring that Defendant, who pled guilty to sex trafficking, was not required to register as a Tier II Sex Offender on the ground that the victim's age had not been proven, holding that the circuit court properly granted declaratory judgment in favor of Defendant. At issue was whether a person like Defendant, who was convicted of human trafficking under Md. Code Ann. Crim. Law (CR) 11-303(a), was required to register as a Tier II Sex Offender where the victim's age was not established during the guilty plea proceeding. The Court of Special Appeals reversed and remanded the case for a determination of the victim's age. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding (1) CR 11-303(a) is an offense whose elements do not require proof of the victim's age; (2) where no proof of the victim's age was established at the plea proceeding, Defendant was not required to register as a Tier II Sex Offender; and (3) the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services lacks the authority to make a factual determination as to the victim's age for purposes of determining whether registration as a Tier II Sex Offender is required. View "Rogers v. State" on Justia Law

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In this case concerning the discretion of a court to dismiss a probation violation petition and to terminate probation the Court of Appeals held that the circuit court had discretion to terminate Defendant's probation before it would otherwise expire and remanded the case to the circuit court for any necessary proceedings in which the court may either exercise its discretion, indicate that it had already done so, or take any other appropriate action. Defendant pled guilty to theft and was sentenced to three years supervised probation. Defendant was later charged with violating the conditions of his probation. After noting that Defendant had already been incarcerated for longer than the presumptive sanction of fifteen days' imprisonment the court dismissed the probation violation petition without determining whether Defendant had committed the alleged probation violations. The court never declared that Defendant's probation had "expired" and was "over." Because the record did not indicate that the circuit court in fact exercised its discretion to terminate Defendant's probation before it would otherwise expire, the Court of Appeals remanded the case to the circuit court for any necessary proceedings in which the court may either exercise its discretion, indicate that it had already done so, or take any other appropriate action. View "State v. Alexander" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the court of special appeals affirming Defendant's convictions of volume possession of a controlled dangerous substance under Md. Code Crim. Law (CR) 5-612, holding that CR 5-612 is unambiguous and that Defendant's sentence was not illegal because the maximum term of imprisonment under the statute is twenty years. In connection with his conviction, Defendant was sentenced to a total sentence of fourteen years' imprisonment, the first five years without the possibility of parole. On appeal, Defendant argued that his sentence was illegal because the express language of CR 5-612 failed to state a maximum potential term of imprisonment. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that Defendant's sentence was legal because it fell within the permissible range of years for which an individual may be sentenced - five to twenty years' of imprisonment. View "Johnson v. State" on Justia Law

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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