Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Maryland Court of Appeals

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the court of special appeals affirming Defendant's conviction of two counts of criminal attempt for his refusal to testify in a murder trial, holding that Defendant failed to proffer sufficient evidence of duress to generate the defense of duress. Defendant was called to testify in a murder trial but refused to answer any questions on the basis of the privilege against self-incrimination. The court subsequently issued an order immunizing Defendant and directing him to testify, but Defendant continued to refuse to answer questions. Defendant was subsequently charged with contempt. During the trial, Defendant attempted to raise the common law defense of duress. The trial court rejected the defense as a matter of law and found Defendant guilty of contempt. Defendant appealed, arguing that duress can be a defense to a contempt charge for a refusal to testify. The court of special appeals affirmed. The Court of Appeals agreed, holding that even assuming the defense of duress was available to Defendant, Defendant's proffered evidence failed to generate the defense of duress because the alleged threat was not "present, imminent, and impending." View "Howell v. State" on Justia Law

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The Court of Chancery reversed the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals affirming the judgment of the circuit court denying Defendant's motion to suppress cocaine on the grounds that officers' warrantless search of Defendant's person was illegal, holding that the same facts and circumstances that justify a search of an automobile do not necessarily justify an arrest and search incident thereto. On appeal, Defendant challenged the denial of his motion to suppress, arguing that the officers lacked probable cause to believe that Defendant possessed ten grams or more of marijuana. The Court of Appeals held (1) a person enjoys a heightened expectation of privacy in his or her person as compared to the diminished expectation of privacy he or she has in an automobile; and (2) the arrest and search of Defendant was unreasonable because the record did not suggest that possession of a joint and the odor of burnt marijuana gave the police probable cause to believe Defendant was in possession of a criminal amount of that substance. View "Pacheco v. State" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals affirming the ruling of the circuit court denying Defendant's motion to suppress a gun as evidence and convicting Defendant of one count of possessing a regulated firearm after having been convicted of a crime of violence, holding that the suppression court erred in denying Defendant's motion to suppress. Three police officers were on patrol looking to discover guns, drugs, or other contraband when they discovered Defendant sitting in the driver's seat of a vehicle that was illegally parked outside of his home. The officers approached the vehicle, frisked Defendant, and arrested Defendant after confirming that he possessed a handgun. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the State failed to establish that the frisk of Defendant was reasonable under the circumstances and that the attenuation doctrine did not serve to render the evidence admissible. View "Thornton v. State" 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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The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals upholding the suppression hearing court's denial of Defendant's motion to suppress, holding that evidence of an out-of-court identification procedure, through which the victim of an alleged assault identified Defendant as the perpetrator of the crime, contained sufficient indicia of reliability to withstand a motion to suppress. At the conclusion of a suppression hearing, the presiding judge concluded that the second photo array identification procedure at issue in this case was admissible because she found it reliable by clear and convincing evidence. Ultimately, the jury found Defendant guilty of attempted robbery, second-degree assault, and reckless endangerment. The Court of Special Appeals affirmed, holding that the identification had sufficient indicia of reliability to overcome the procedure's suggestiveness. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the identification contained sufficient indicia of reliability to overcome the suggestive nature of the pretrial identification procedures. View "Small v. State" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of the court of special appeals affirming in part and reversing in part the judgment of the post-conviction granting Respondent a new trial, holding that certain actions on the part of Respondent’s trial counsel did not violate Respondent’s constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel. Respondent was convicted of first-degree murder, robbery, kidnapping, and false imprisonment. Respondent later filed a petition for post-conviction relief alleging that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. The post-conviction court denied relief. The intermediate appellate remanded the case. On remand, the post-conviction court concluded that Respondent’s trial counsel’s performance was deficient and that this deficiency prejudiced Respondent. As a result, the post-conviction court vacated the convictions and granted Respondent a new trial. The court of appeals reversed in part, but the court’s ultimate disposition left the new trial granted by the circuit court in place. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that trial counsel’s deficient performance in one aspect of her representation did not prejudice Respondent within the meaning of Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). View "State v. Syed" on Justia Law

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At issue was three crimes that were committed when each of three Petitioners was a juvenile and whether each Petitioner was effectively serving a sentence of life without parole because the laws of Maryland do not provide him with a “meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.” See Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010). None of the sentences imposed in these cases was explicitly “life without parole.” In all three cases each Petitioner filed a motion to correct an illegal sentence. The Court of Appeals concluded that one Petitioner was entitled to be resentenced to a legal sentence, holding (1) with respect to the two Petitioners serving life sentences, their sentences are legal under the laws governing parole of inmates serving life sentences in Maryland; but (2) with respect to the Petitioner serving a 100-year sentence, the sentence is effectively a sentence of life without parole in violation of the Eighth Amendment. View "Carter v. State" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals finding that the trial court did not deny Petitioner due process by permitting the State to question him about his failure to disclose an alibi defense after he invoked Miranda. Petitioner was convicted of first degree murder and other crimes. On appeal, Petitioner argued that the trial court denied him due process by allowing the prosecutor to question him about “what he did not tell the police about his alibi defense, even though the omissions were a result of [Petitioner’s] post-arrest, post-Miranda invocation of silence and were not inconsistencies with his trial testimony.” The State countered that even statements taken in violation of Miranda can be used to impeach a witness’s prior inconsistent statement. The Court of Appeals held that an invocation of Miranda does not preclude the State from impeaching a witness concerning prior inconsistent statements, even after a suspect invokes his right to remain silent. View "Reynolds v. State" on Justia Law

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At issue was whether a circuit court’s exercise of its coercive powers to incarcerate a drug court program participant is subject to appellate review and can violate a participant’s right to due process. Respondents in the two underlying cases participated in the circuit court’s drug court program as a special condition of probation. Each respondent violated the program conditions, and the circuit court imposed immediate sanctions. The Court of Special Appeals concluded that Respondents had the right to seek appellate review of the incarceration sanction and held that the circuit court’s procedure did not comply with due process requirements. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) a participant in a drug court program seeking to appeal from the circuit court’s imposition of sanctions may do so by filing an application for leave to appeal pursuant to Md. Code Ann. Cts. & Judgment. Proc. 12-302(g); (2) when a circuit court administering a drug court program considers imposing a sanction involving the loss of liberty or termination from the program, it must provide minimum due process protections; and (3) the process followed by the circuit court in imposing sanctions violated constitutional due process guarantees. View "State v. Brookman" on Justia Law

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In this dispute over constitutional limits on the governor’s power to make recess appointments, the Court of Appeals held that a provision in the state budget bill passed by the general assembly that precluded two gubernatorial appointees from being paid a salary exceeded the authority of the legislature was was invalid and unenforceable. In 2016, the governor appointed the two appointees as secretaries for two departments. The governor withdrew his nomination of the appointees during the 2017 legislation session but later reappointed the two secretaries. Anticipating that prospect, the general assembly passed a provision in the state budget bill forbidding payments to administration appointees who were nominated but not confirmed by the Maryland Senate. The cabinet secretaries filed suit demanding pay for their work. The circuit judge ruled that the governor had the authority to make the two recess appointments and ordered the treasurer to pay the cabinet secretaries. The Court of Appeals vacated the circuit court’s judgment and remanded for entry of a declaratory judgment declaring that the appointees were entitled to be paid the salaries set forth in the fiscal year 2018 budget for the times they served as secretaries of their respective departments and for entry of an order enjoining the state from interfering with the payment of those salaries. View "Kopp v. Schrader" on Justia Law