Justia Maryland Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

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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

Posted in: Criminal 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 determining that state law preempted a local zoning authority with respect to solar energy generating systems (SEGS) that require a certificate of public convenience and necessity (CPCN) issued by the Maryland Public Service Commission and that the Commission had exclusive jurisdiction to approve the type of SEGS proposed by Perennial Solar, LLC in this case. Perennial applied to the Washington County Board of Zoning Appeals (Board) for a special exception and variance to construct a SEGS. The Board granted the variance and special exception. Aggrieved landowners sought judicial review, and Washington County intervened. While the petition for judicial review was pending, Perennial moved for pre-appeal determination challenging the subject matter jurisdiction of the circuit court. The circuit court granted the motion, determining that Md. Code Ann. Pub. Util. (PU) 7-207 preempted the Washington County zoning ordinance. The court of special appeals affirmed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that PU 7-207 preempts by implication local zoning authority approval for the siting and location of generating stations that require a CPCN. View "Washington County v. Perennial Solar, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the court of special appeals affirming the judgment of the circuit court denying Defendant's petition for postconviction relief alleging ineffective assistance of counsel, holding that Defendant proved that his trial counsel's performance was deficient but failed to establish prejudice. Defendant was found guilty of eleven charges arising out of an armed robbery. After an unsuccessful appeal, Defendant petitioned for postconviction relief, arguing that trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by not moving to strike a juror for cause and by not using a peremptory challenge against the juror. The circuit court denied the petition, and the court of special appeals affirmed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) Defendant's trial counsel's conduct fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, but the presumption of prejudice did not apply here; and (2) Defendant failed to prove prejudice under the circumstances of this case. View "Ramirez v. State" on Justia Law

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In these consolidated appeals, the Court of Appeals held that the Justice Reinvestment Act of 2016 (JRA), codified as Md. Code Crim. Proc. 6-223(d), does not grant probationers found to have committed a technical violation of probation the right to appeal directly to the court of special appeals from a circuit court's order of violation of probation and resulting sentence that exceeds the presumptive limits of incarceration for a technical violation but, rather, probation violators in this position must seek appellate review by application for leave to appeal. Petitioners Tomekia Conaway and Luke Daniel Johnson violated the conditions of their probation. The circuit court revoked Petitioners' probation and sentenced them to terms of incarceration. At issue in both cases was whether Petitioners could proceed with an appeal by way of a notice of appeal or, rather, an application for leave to appeal. The Court of Appeals held that Petitioners had no right of direct appeal and must file an application for leave to appeal. View "Conaway v. State" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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In this asbestos mesothelioma civil litigation the court of appeals affirmed the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals affirming the judgment of the trial court finding that William Edward Busch contracted mesothelioma as a result of his exposure to asbestos-containing materials installed by insulation contractor Wallace & Gale, Co., the predecessor to Defendant, Wallace & Gale Asbestos Settlement Trust (WGAST), during the construction of a high school, holding that there was no error in the proceedings below. Specifically, the Court held (1) it was sufficient to rely on circumstantial evidence to infer that WGAST, whose presence was substantial in the general insulation of plumbing, heating, and ventilation surfaces during construction in the high school building, was responsible for the asbestos exposure and resulting illness of Busch, who worked only in a specific room of the building and where there was no direct evidence linking WGAST to the asbestos insulation installed in that room; and (2) it was permissible to inform the jury that a co-defendant to the asbestos lawsuit had been dismissed when a remaining defendant opened the door by introducing evidence relating to the earlier presence of the dismissed party. View "Wallace & Gale Asbestos Settlement Trust v. Busch" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury

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The Court of Appeals suspended Respondent, the Honorable Devy Patterson Russell, for six months without pay from her service as a judge of the district court and set conditions precedent to Respondent's reinstatement of her duties as a judge, holding that the Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities' conclusion that Respondent committed sanctionable conduct was supported by clear and convincing evidence. In addition to other misconduct, Respondent failed to handle and process search warrant materials in a manner consistent with Maryland Rule 4-601 and internal courthouse procedures and failed to treat fellow judges and courthouse staff with dignity and respect. The Commission found that Respondent engaged in misconduct and recommended that she be suspended for six months without pay and that she take remedial measures to assist her when she returned to her duties. The Supreme Court agreed that Respondent committed sanctionable conduct and suspended her for six months without pay. View "In re Judge Russell" on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the court of special appeals reversing Defendant's conviction, holding that the trial court erred in admitting irrelevant evidence and abused its discretion in weighing the proportionality of a statement made by Defendant indicating his intention to sell cocaine, and the error was not harmless. The trial court weighed the probative value and prejudicial effect of the contested portion of Defendant's previously redacted statement and ultimately admitted the unredacted statement, concluding that defense counsel's remarks triggered the opening the door doctrine. Defendant was ultimately convicted of involuntary manslaughter and second-degree assault. The court of special appeals reversed the trial court's ruling that the door had been opened and held that the trial court's error in allowing the statement into evidence was not harmless. The Court of Appeals affirmed and remanded the case for a new trial, holding (1) the trial court erred when it determined that defense counsel opened the door to admitting Defendant's statement based upon a comment made in her opening statement; and (2) admitting Defendant's statement was legal error and an abuse of discretion. View "State v. Heath" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the circuit court ruling in favor of a homeowner's association (Association) on its lawsuit against Diane Steele for unpaid assessments, holding that Steele owed the Association dues in the amount of $1,257.60. Steele owned a home in the Diamond Farm development of Montgomery County, which was managed by the Association. While in accordance with the Association's declaration of covenants, conditions and restrictions, the Association must obtain at least two-thirds of the members' total votes to increase annual assessments, assessment increases in 2007, 2011, and 2014 did not receive the requisite two-thirds vote for approval. Consequently, Steele ceased making payments. The Association subsequently brought suit seeking unpaid assessments and attorney's fees. The district court entered judgment in Steele's favor because the Association failed to establish the amount of dues owed. On de novo appeal, the circuit court ruled in favor of the Association. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the ultra vires statute, Md. Code Ann. Corps. & Ass'ns. 1-403, and the doctrine of equitable estoppel operated as a bar to Steele's defense that the Association's fee increase were invalid; and (2) the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in awarding $1,257.60 in attorney's fees. View "Steele v. Diamond Farm Homes Corp." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed an administrative law judge's (ALJ) finding that Petitioner was responsible for indicated child neglect under Md. Code Ann. Fam. Law (Fam. Law) 5-701(s), holding that intent or scienter is not an element of child neglect under Fam. Law 5-701(s). Defendant forgot to drop his seventeen-month-old son off at daycare before going to work. The child was found in the car more than six hours later and pronounced dead at the scene. St. Mary's County Department of Social Services rendered a finding of indicated child neglect against Defendant. An ALJ concluded that the Department had established by a preponderance of the evidence that the finding of indicated child neglect was supported by credible evidence and consistent with the law. The circuit court affirmed. At issue on appeal was whether "neglect" under Fam. Law 5-701(s) requires proof of an element of scienter. The Court of Special Appeals held that the statute does not require scienter. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the plain language of the statute excludes intent as an element of child neglect. View "Junek v. St. Mary's County Department of Social Services" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals reversing Defendant's conviction for robbery on the ground that the guilty verdict on the robbery charge was legally inconsistent with Defendant's acquittal on a second-degree assault charge, holding that the guilty verdict on the robbery count should be affirmed. A jury found Defendant guilty of robbery and theft but acquitted him of second-degree assault. The Court of Special Appeals reversed the conviction on the robbery count, concluding that the trial court erred in accepting inconsistent verdicts because the second-degree assault charge of which Defendant was acquitted was a lesser-included offense of the robbery. A majority of the Court of Appeals reversed, but the members who agreed with this disposition did so for different reasons. Two judges would apply a two-step analysis to hold that that the verdicts were not legally inconsistent and that the evidence satisfied the elements of robbery. Two other judges would analyze whether the verdict demonstrated that the jury disregarded the trial court's instructions on the law to conclude that the guilty verdict on the robbery count should not be reversed on the ground of inconsistency. View "State v. Stewart" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law