Justia Maryland Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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The Court of Appeals answered four questions of law concerning the application of the Justice Reinvestment Act (JRA), Chapter 515, Laws of Maryland 2016, specifically, a provision codified in Md. Code Ann. Crim. Law (CR) 5-609.1.The JRA eliminated mandatory minimum sentences of imprisonment without the possibility of parole required by existing law for defendants who were convicted of certain drug offenses and who were repeat offenders. CR 5-609.1 provides that a defendant who had received a mandatory minimum sentence prior to the elimination of such sentences can ask the court to reduce that sentence. A number of inmates currently serving mandatory minimum sentences invoked CR 5-609.1 and filed motions to modify or reduce their sentences. The Court of Special Appeals certified questions of law concerning CR 5-609.1 that pertained to pending appeals in that court. The Court of Appeals answered the certified questions as to the application of CR 5-609.1 when the mandatory minimum sentence relates to a conviction based on a court-approved plea agreement under which the parties agreed that the mandatory minimum sentence would be imposed and when the defendant waived the right to seek modification of that sentence as part of the plea agreement. View "Brown, Bottini & Wilson v. State" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Court of Appeals affirmed Defendant's convictions for sexually abusing several female students while he was their elementary school teacher, holding that any error by the trial court in excluding character evidence of appropriateness with children in Defendant's custody or care was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.On appeal, Defendant argued that the trial judge erred by excluding evidence from parents of students and from professional colleagues that, in their opinion, Defendant was the type of person who behaved appropriately with children in his custody or care. The Court of Special Appeals affirmed. The Court of Appeals also affirmed, holding (1) character evidence of appropriateness with children in one's custody or care may be admissible in a criminal case where a defendant is accused of sexually abusing a child; (2) any error in excluding Defendant's proffered character evidence was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt; and (3) Defendant's constitutional arguments were not preserved for appellate review or abandoned and, in any event, lacked merit. View "Vigna v. State" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the court of special appeals reversing the decision of the post-conviction court granting Petitioner post-conviction relief based on the court's finding that Petitioner received ineffective assistance of counsel, holding that Petitioner's counsel rendered ineffective assistance based on a conflict of interest.Petitioner pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute a controlled dangerous substance. Petitioner subsequently filed a petition for post-conviction relief, alleging that he received ineffective assistance of counsel because he was misadvised of the immigration consequences of his plea agreement and because his counsel failed to disclose a personal conflict of interest. The post-conviction court granted Petitioner relief based on the court's finding of an actual conflict of interest. The court of special appeals reversed. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that defense counsel's conflict of interest rendered his representation of Petitioner constitutionally deficient under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 21 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights. View "Podieh v. State" 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 coram nobis court ruling that Defendant failed to prove that his attorney performed below constitutional standards and was therefore not entitled to coram nobis relief, holding that the coram nobis court did not err.Defendant was convicted of reckless endangerment and illegally transporting a handgun in a vehicle. The court sentenced Defendant to fourteen days of jail time and three years of probation. Defendant's attorney later filed a motion for modification of sentence, asking that the court consider changing the sentence to probation before judgment. However, the attorney asked the court to defer consideration of the motion until after the conclusion of Defendant's probation. A hearing on the motion was never held. Defendant subsequently sought to expunge the records of his criminal charges but was not successful because he had not received probation before judgment. Defendant sought a writ of error coram nobis asking that the sentencing court belatedly hold a hearing and decide his motion for modification of sentence. The coram nobis court and the court of special appeals denied relief. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that Defendant's attorney did not provide ineffective assistance of counsel. View "Franklin 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 reversing in part Defendant's convictions for involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment, and neglect of a minor stemming from the death of her infant, holding that the evidence was insufficient to support Defendant's convictions for involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment.Defendant's four-month-old infant died as a result from asphyxia after Defendant slept on top of her infant after a virtual "Moms' night out" drinking beer with her friends via Facebook livestream. Defendant as convicted of involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment, and neglect of a minor. The Court of Special Appeals concluded that Defendant's conduct was insufficient to support a finding of "gross negligence," which was required for the involuntary manslaughter conviction and that the evidence was insufficient to support the reckless endangerment conviction. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the evidence was insufficient to support Defendant's convictions for involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment because the conduct neither rose to the level of gross negligence more constituted a "gross departure from the conduct of a reasonably prudent person" such that it could be deemed reckless. View "State v. Morrison" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Court of Appeals held that the odor of marijuana on or about a person, without more, does not provide law enforcement officers with probable cause to arrest and perform a warrantless search of that person incident to the arrest.Defendant filed a motion to suppress, arguing that he was unlawfully seized and subjected to a search incident to arrest. In denying Defendant's motion to suppress, the suppression court ruled that the odor of marijuana gave police probable cause to arrest Defendant and, incident to the arrest, conduct a full search of Defendant's person. The Court of Special Appeals affirmed. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding (1) the mere odor of marijuana emanating from a person, without more, does not provide the police with probable cause to support an arrest and a search of the arrestee; and (2) because the search of Petitioner was based solely on the odor of marijuana emanating from his person, the officer lacked the requisite probable cause to conduct that search. View "Lewis v. State" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals held that, under the merger rule articulated in State v. Lancaster, 631 A.2d 453 (Md. 1993), offenses and their sentences merge for purposes of sentencing, and therefore, Defendant's convictions for fourth-degree sexual offense and second-degree assault merge, leaving the only permissible punishment the sentence for fourth-degree sexual offense.Defendant was convicted of second-degree assault and fourth-degree sexual offense and sentenced to ten years' incarceration for the assault count and one year for the sexual offense charge, to run consecutively. The court of special appeals reversed and remanded the case to the circuit court for resentencing, holding that the convictions merged. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) the offenses of second-degree assault and fourth-degree sexual offense and their sentences merge; and (2) there is no reason to overturn Lancaster. View "State v. Frazier" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Court of Appeals remanded this case, without affirming or reversing, to the court of special appeals with instruction to explain the basis of its order reversing the circuit court's judgment denying postconviction relief and remanding and granting permission for the filing of a belated motion for modification of sentence, holding the Court was unable to determine the basis underlying the court of special appeals' order.Defendant was convicted of first-degree robbery, robbery, and conspiracy to commit robbery. Defendant later petitioned for postconviction relief, alleging that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. The circuit court denied postconviction relief. The court of special appeals summarily reversed and remanded with instruction to permit Defendant to file a belated motion for modification of sentence. At issue on appeal was whether trial counsel's failure to timely file a motion for modification of sentence pursuant to Maryland Rule 4-345(e) constituted ineffective assistance of counsel. The Supreme Court remanded the case without reaching the merits, holding that the order of the court of special appeals was unclear and the case must be remanded for clarification. View "State v. Day" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In this criminal case in which Defendant was charged with various drunk driving offenses the Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of the trail court denying Defendant's motions in limine to exclude field sobriety tests and a breath test from the evidence, holding that, in giving advice of rights, law enforcement officers must use methods that reasonably convey the warnings and rights in the implied consent statute.Police officers found Defendant asleep at the wheel of his truck and brought him to the station after he failed several field sobriety tests. An officer read in English an "Advice of Rights" form, commonly referred to as a DR-15 form, to Defendant, who spoke Spanish. Defendant signed the DR-15, agreeing to take a breath test, and failed the test. Defendant moved to exclude the tests, arguing that he did not understand the field sobriety test instructions or the advice of rights because he did not understand English. The trial court denied the motions, and Defendant was convicted. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded for a new trial at which the breath test evidence must be suppressed, holding that the officer in this case did not use methods that reasonably conveyed the warnings and rights in the implied consent statute. View "Funes v. State" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the opinion of the Court of Special Appeals affirming the circuit court's denial of Petitioner's petition for a writ of habeas corpus, holding that Maryland lacked jurisdiction over Petitioner to commit him to the Department of Health and that the Interstate Agreement on Detainers (IAD) required Petitioner's return to Ohio to serve the remainder of his sentence there.After commencing a sentence in Ohio for felony assault, Petitioner requested a transfer under the IAD to Maryland where a murder charge was pending against him. Petitioner pled guilty in Maryland to second degree murder. After a trial, the jury returned a verdict of "not criminally responsible." The State asserted that the IAD required that Petitioner first return to Ohio to finish his sentence. Petitioner filed a habeas corpus petition seeking to remain in Maryland, but the circuit court denied relief. The Court of Special Appeals affirmed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) under the the plain language of the IAD, Maryland had custody of Petitioner only for the purpose of resolving the pending murder charge and thus did not have jurisdiction to commit him to the Department; and (2) article VI(b) of the IAD did not prevent Petitioner's return to Ohio. View "Aleman v. State" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law