Justia Maryland Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of attempted second-degree murder and other offenses. Defendant appealed his conviction of attempted second-degree murder, challenging the trial judge’s finding that defense counsel’s explanations for striking jurors were a pretext for racial discrimination. The Court of Special Appeals affirmed. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding (1) the trial judge’s finding that defense counsel’s peremptory challenges were a pretext for racial discrimination was clearly erroneous; and (2) the evidence was insufficient for a rational trier of fact to find beyond a reasonable doubt specific intent for the crime of attempted second-degree murder. Remanded for a new trial as to all remaining counts except for the count charging attempted second-degree murder. View "Spencer v. State" on Justia Law

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Under the rent escrow statute, if a tenant is successful in showing that a landlord was aware of certain conditions or defects in the rental property and failed to correct them, the tenant may be entitled to an abatement or reduction of the rent or other relief. Landlord in this case filed a summary ejectment action against Tenant to collect unpaid rent and to regain possession of the unit. During trial, Tenant attempted to submit evidence of alleged defects in the rental property. The circuit court declined to accept the proffered evidence, concluding that it would be relevant only in an affirmative rent escrow action, which, according to the court, must be filed as a separate action. The circuit court proceeded to enter judgment in favor of Landlord. The Court of Appeals vacated the judgment, holding that Tenant could present her evidence and contentions under the rent escrow statute in defense of the summary ejectment action brought by Landlord and was not required to present them in a separate action. Remanded. View "Cane v. EZ Rentals" on Justia Law
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Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendant seeking damages for defamation and false light invasion of privacy. During trial, the circuit court ruled, as a matter of law, that Defendant was entitled to a conditional privilege for the allegedly defamatory statements. The circuit court then instructed the jury that the applicable standard of proof to overcome the conditional privilege was clear and convincing evidence. The jury found in favor of Defendant. The Court of Special Appeals reversed, concluding that the circuit court erred in instructing the jury that the standard of proof in overcoming the conditional privilege was clear and convincing evidence rather than a preponderance of the evidence. Defendant filed a petition for a writ of certiorari, which the Court of Appeals granted. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, in a purely private defamation action, an individual asserting a defamation claim must overcome a common law conditional privilege by a preponderance of the evidence. View "Seley-Radtke v. Hosmane" on Justia Law
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In 1990, Petitioner was indicted on fifteen charges related to a sexual assault. Petitioner entered an Alford plea to first degree rape and kidnapping and was sentenced to life imprisonment plus thirty years. In 2008, Petitioner filed a petition for DNA testing alleging that newly discovered slides containing cellular material from swabs taken from the victim needed to be tested. The circuit court granted the motion, and the testing was conducted. Thereafter, Petitioner filed a motion to vacate conviction and contemporaneously filed a petition for writ of actual innocence. The circuit court denied the motions after a hearing. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that Petitioner could not avail himself of a petition for DNA testing because he entered a plea rather than going to trial. View "Jamison v. State" on Justia Law
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This case involved a joint criminal trial of two codefendants - Dorrien Allen and Tevin Hines. Hines appealed the trial court’s denial of his motion for a severance, arguing that he was prejudiced by the admission into evidence of a statement made by Allen, which was inadmissible against Hines. The Court of Special Appeals reversed, holding that Hines was prejudiced by having to defend himself against evidence that would not have been admissible had he been tried separately. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the trial court committed reversible error in denying Hines’s motion for severance because the statement that was inadmissible against Hines implicated him and therefore caused him to suffer prejudice from the joinder. View "State v. Hines" on Justia Law
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Appellant was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Appellant filed a pro se petition for postconviction DNA testing of a broom and dust pan pursuant to Md. Code Ann. Crim. Proc. (CP) 8-201. The postconviction court dismissed the petition, concluding that Appellant did not have standing to file a petition under CP 8-201(b) because he was not convicted of a crime of violence. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) a defendant convicted of conspiracy to commit murder is not eligible to file a petition for postconviction DNA testing under CP 8-201(b); and (2) the postconviction DNA testing statute does not violate due process or equal protection rights under the United States Constitution or the Maryland Declaration of Rights. View "Washington v. State" on Justia Law

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In 2009, the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) granted Petitioner’s application for vanity license plates bearing the word “MIERDA.” The MVA later rescinded the plates according to a State regulation authorizing the recall of vanity plates containing profanities or obscenities, as “mierda” translates into English as “shit.” The Maryland Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH), the circuit court, and the Court of Special Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the characters on a vanity license plate represent private speech in a nonpublic forum, which requires government speech restrictions thereof to be reasonable and viewpoint neutral; (2) Maryland’s regulation prohibiting profanities, epithets, or obscenities satisfies this standard; and (3) the MVA acted reasonably, viewpoint-neutrally, in accordance with the regulation, and based on substantial evidence in acting to recall Petitioner’s vanity plates. View "Mitchell v. Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration" on Justia Law
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Following his arrest for illegal drug activity, Petitioner was released on bond and withdrew all of the money contained in two bank accounts. Law enforcement traced the money to Petitioner’s sister’s bank account and seized the bank account. Less than ninety days after the conclusion of Petitioner’s criminal proceedings, the Department of Finance of Montgomery County filed a complaint petition for currency forfeiture as to the sister’s bank account. Petitioner’s sister argued that her bank account was not “money” under Maryland's forfeiture statute and that the complaint for forfeiture was untimely filed. The circuit court rejected that argument and ultimately found that the funds in the bank account constituted illegal drug proceeds. The court, therefore, granted forfeiture of the entire amount. The Court of Special Appeals affirmed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) the funds contained in a bank account are “money” for purposes of the forfeiture statute; and (2) the forfeiting authority timely filed the complaint for forfeiture of the bank account within the deadline applicable to the filing of a complaint for forfeiture of money. View "Bottini v. Dep’t of Finance, Montgomery County" on Justia Law
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Baltimore County and the Fraternal Order of Police have entered into numerous collective bargaining agreements over the years. This case arose out of a dispute over the interpretation of a provision in some of those agreements that provided for a fixed subsidy of health insurance costs for officers who retired during certain years. The dispute proceeded to binding arbitration. The FOP won the arbitration, but the County sought to overturn the arbitration award in the courts. Among other things, the County argued that the arbitration award was invalid because it was subject to the County’s executive budget process. The Circuit Court rejected the County’s various challenges to the award – a decision ultimately upheld by the Maryland Supreme Court. When the case returned to the Circuit Court, the County balked at complying with the arbitration award arguing that the award, even if valid, was unenforceable because it was subject to the County’s executive budget process. That argument was indistinguishable from one of the issues that the County had advanced on its prior trip up the appellate ladder and that the Supreme Court had previously rejected. The repetition of the issue from the prior appeal allowed the lower courts to dispose of the issue under the "law of the case" doctrine. However, the Supreme Court held that the lower courts properly applied the law of the case doctrine here. "An arbitration award that arises from a grievance process under an MOU previously approved by the County Executive and County Council and that interprets the provisions of the MOU is not subject to the executive budget process in the same way as an interest arbitration award that resolves an impasse in negotiations." The judgment of the Court of Special Appeals was affirmed. View "Baltimore Co. v. FOP Lodge No. 4" on Justia Law

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Petitioners, United Insurance Company of America and the Reliable Life Insurance Company, filed a declaratory action against Respondents, the Maryland Insurance Administration, et al., (“MIA”) challenging the retroactive enforcement of Md. Code (2011 Repl. Vol., 2015 Supp.) sections 16-118 of the Insurance Article (“Ins.”). Section 16-118 imposed a duty on an insurer who “issues, delivers, or renews a policy of life insurance or an annuity contract . . .” in the State to “perform a comparison of [their] in-force life insurance policies, annuity contracts, and retained assets accounts against the latest version of a death master file to identify any death benefit payments that may be due. . . .” on a regular or semi-annual basis. Prior to this legislation, insurers were under no obligation to research whether a policyholder had died, and the statute did not indicate whether its provisions applied retroactively to existing insurance policies. The circuit court dismissed Petitioners’ action based on the failure to exhaust administrative remedies afforded by the Insurance Article. In an unpublished opinion, the Court of Special Appeals agreed, and affirmed the judgment of the circuit court. After its review, the Supreme Court agreed with the appellate court and affirmed. View "United Insurance v. MD Insurance Admin." on Justia Law
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