Sinclair v. State.
The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland recently held that the limited, immediate search of an arrestee’s cell phone, pursuant to a lawful arrest, did not violate his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures. The Appellant was convicted in the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County of various charges stemming from a carjacking in Temple Hills, Maryland. The record reveals that minutes after the Appellant’s lawful arrest, the on-duty officer conducted a limited search of the cell phone found on his person. During the Appellant’s Circuit Court trial, defense counsel moved, in limine, to suppress the evidence seized from his phone. The Circuit Court for Prince George’s County denied this motion, concluding that the search was valid incident to a lawful arrest.
On appeal, the Maryland Court struck down the Appellant’s claims, citing to a decision from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland balanced the Fourth Amendment rights of suspects against the need of law enforcement to preserve evidence when faced with nuances presented by modern technology. Here, the Court concluded that, because the search was close in time to the arrest and the officer “merely opened the appellant’s cell phone” to find the evidence on the screensaver, the search was valid under the Fourth Amendment.
The Maryland Court also held that the introduction of other crimes evidence is proper, when the probative value outweighs any unfair prejudice that may arise. Here, the Court reasoned that because both parties stipulated (and the jury knew) that Appellant was previously found guilty of a disqualifying crime, the introduction of other crimes evidence related to this stipulation was not overly prejudicial. Furthermore, use of this evidence was properly admissible for purposes of impeachment because it was related to a contested issue in the case.
Oku v. State
The Court of Appeals of Maryland affirmed the ruling of a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge allowing voluntary testimony from a criminal defendant’s District Court trial to be used in the State’s case-in-chief during his Circuit Court trial. The Petitioner was accused of attacking a man while in an elevator in Silver Spring, Maryland. He was charged with second degree assault and reckless endangerment in the District Court of Maryland in Montgomery County. Petitioner, represented by an attorney, took the stand in his own defense.
During his trial, he admitted to punching the victim in the face once and hitting him once. It is undisputed that Petitioner’s District Court testimony was given voluntarily. At the end of his District Court trial, Petitioner was convicted of both the second degree assault and reckless endangerment charges. Petitioner exercised his right to a de novo appeal in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County.
Before the start of Petitioner’s Circuit Court trial, Petitioner made a motion in limine arguing that the Court should preclude the introduction of Petitioner’s District Court testimony during his trial. The Court denied Petitioner’s motion. After the victim’s in-court identification of the Petitioner, the State, over Petitioner’s objection, introduced a recording of the Petitioner’s District Court testimony into evidence. Petitioner asserted that his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and the nature of the de novo trial prohibited his District Court testimony from coming in during the State’s case-in-chief. Further, Petitioner asserted that the Circuit Court judge’s ruling relieved the State of its burden to put on its case a second time.
However, in ruling against Petitioner’s objection, the Court noted that Maryland’s de novo statutory scheme “does not call for exclusion of testimony voluntarily given in district court trial, as long as it is admissible under rules of evidence.” In explaining its holding, the Court of Appeals of Maryland reasoned that while the structure of the de novo appeal system does have the effect of ignoring the judgment below, it does not allow for the complete erasure of the defendant’s voluntary testimony.
See U.S. Const. am. V. “No person shall . . . be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself . . .” (The Court of Appeals of Maryland reasoned that “Petitioner’s District Court testimony, not compelled at the time it was given, did not transform into compelled testimony when later introduced in Circuit Court” thereby not offending the Fifth Amendment).
Lopez v. State
The Court of Appeals of Maryland held that the doctrine of laches does not apply to post-conviction petitions arising from sentences imposed before October 1995. Mr. Lopez, sentenced in 1986 for committing a string of crimes in Silver Spring, Maryland, filed his petition for post-conviction relief in 2005, unrepresented by counsel. In 2007, the Office of the Public Defender provided a supplement to Mr. Lopez’s petition, in which he alleged ineffective assistance of counsel. The State, in its response, used the equitable doctrine of laches as an affirmative defense to Mr. Lopez’s petition.
In 2008, the Circuit Court for Montgomery County denied his petition on that basis. The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland affirmed the Circuit Court’s ruling. The Court of Appeals of Maryland reviewed the intermediate Court’s decision on certiorari. In support of its ruling, the Court of Appeals of Maryland looked to the legislative intent of Maryland’s General Assembly and case law for guidance. Through its analysis, the Court determined that the pre-amendment language allowing for post conviction petitions to be filed “at any time” applies to defendants sentenced before 1995. Based on this examination, the Court of Appeals found no basis for refusing to apply the 1995 limitations retroactively, but permitting the use of laches as a defense, allowing Mr. Lopez to litigate his post-conviction petition.
See Lopez v. State, (2013), “This equitable doctrine of laches bars litigation of a claim when there is unreasonable delay in its assertion and the delay results in prejudice to the opposing party” (citing to Liddy v. Lamone, 398 Md. 233, 243045, 919 A.2d 1276 (2007).
The Court notes that uncodified language relating to the 1995 amendment indicates the Legislature’s intent that the amendment only apply to sentences imposed after its enactment; see also State v. Williamson, 408 Md. 269, 277, 969 A.2d 300, 305 (2009) (10 year limitation period did not apply to an individual sentenced before the effective date of thesf statute – October 1, 1995).
Choate v. State
The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland recently affirmed a Montgomery County Circuit judge’s ruling denying Appellant’s motions for mistrial. The Court held that the grant of a mistrial is not warranted when the defendant has not suffered irreversible prejudice and when the prosecution’s statements in closing do not create an inference that the defendant should have taken the stand.
This case arises from a trial in which Appellant was convicted of first degree rape and two counts of first degree sexual offense of a Bethesda woman. As a result, he was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences. In Appellant’s Brief submitted to the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland, he asserts that his two motions for a mistrial were erroneously denied. His first motion, made during State’s closing, asserted that he was in fact prejudiced by the trial court’s ruling allowing the State’s reference to facts not introduced into evidence. Specifically, Appellant cited to the victim’s testimony regarding a screw driver that was allegedly used by Appellant during commission of the crime.
During the State’s case-in-chief, the victim was shown a screw driver found in the van in which Appellant was stopped and arrested. Her testimony indicated that she was unsure whether the screw driver shown to her was the same one used by the Appellant. As a result, the Court ruled that the screw driver would be “admitted as the screwdriver Agent Willis had recovered from the van.” Additionally, the Court prohibited the prosecution from arguing that the screwdriver introduced into evidence was the one used during the attack. Notwithstanding this limiting instruction, however, the prosecution, during closing, argued that “she’s grabbed by the defendant, who holds this screwdriver . . .”. Pursuant to the limiting instruction, the Court instructed the jury to disregard this statement. However, on appeal, the Court found that these statements were permissible concluding that because a reasonable jury could draw an inference that the screw driver presented during trial was the screw driver Appellant used (and trial counsel was free to argue the opposite) the statement did not give rise to a mistrial based on the Maryland Court’s standard of review.
The second motion, made during the State’s rebuttal, concerned Appellant’s contention that the State created an improper inference to the jury regarding Appellant’s decision not to testify. It is well settled law in Maryland that a criminal defendant has the right to decline to testify and not be penalized for this decision. Appellant cited to a portion of the State’s rebuttal that “[t]here were only two people there” and that, the victim “came in and . . . sat here and . . . told you what happened” as statements that created an unlawful inference that the defendant’s silence should be seen as guilt. However, this excerpt of the rebuttal was a small portion of the five pages containing the State’s arguments bolstering the victim’s credibility because she was the only other witness to the crime other than the Appellant. As such, the Court found that the Montgomery County judge did not abuse his discretion in denying trial counsel’s second mistrial motion.
Hall v. State.
In a close decision, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland affirmed a ruling from the Circuit Court of Baltimore City permitting the reading of an Allen-type jury pattern instruction that did not strictly adhere to the language included in the instruction. Although the Court noted that, the Circuit Courts should avoid the sort of divergence that occurred in this case, ultimately, the instructions were upheld. The Maryland Court ruled that the instructions given did not alter the substance of the Maryland Pattern Jury Instructions (“MPJI”), nor were they found to be unduly coercive.
On appeal, Appellant cited to two instances that, in his view, were impermissibly coercive: 1) the Court’s altered instruction directing the jury “to decide” as opposed to “deliberate” (which is what is written in the instruction); and 2)the trial court’s preface to the instructions in which the judge announced that the jury reached an impasse due to one juror. In response to Appellant’s arguments, the Maryland Court maintained that the instruction’s potential coerciveness, read in context, was lessened by language emphasizing the importance of each juror reaching an individual judgment that is accurately reflected in the final verdict. Additionally, the Court found that this divergence did not materially alter the substance of the instruction.
The Court of Special Appeals used analogous reasoning with respect to Appellant’s second argument. Here, the Circuit Court judge intimated that he did not wish to appear critical of the single juror and stressed that each juror conform with his/her belief when attempting to reach a verdict. After reviewing the record, the Court stated that “the content of the instruction given remained within the spirit of the ABA-approved instruction . . .”.
Jones v. state.
The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland held that when a defendant shoots multiple bullets into an occupied residence (which he knows to be occupied), there is sufficient evidence for a jury to reasonably infer that the defendant intended to cause fear of imminent bodily harm to those in the residence. This inference is sufficient to support a conviction of the “intent to frighten variety of assault” with respect to each occupant who was placed in fear. A conviction based on this variety of assault will be supported regardless of a defendant’s knowledge of the identity of each occupant.
In the instant case, appellant was convicted on two counts of second-degree assault and three counts of reckless endangerment. Appellant only contested his second-degree assault conviction for Ms. Johnson, “the unknown victim,” on appeal. The record established that Appellant intentionally fired three shots into the door of a residence, which he knew to be occupied by several people, causing an immediate fear of bodily harm to those inside. Appellant argued that because he was unaware of the identities of all the occupants, and only had the intent to place certain people in fear, he did not have the specific intent necessary to be convicted of second-degree assault of the unknown victims in the apartment.
The Maryland Court rejected Appellant’s reasoning, finding that, at minimum, the evidence produced need only establish that Appellant was aware of the presence of others in the apartment; the Appellant’s ignorance of the identity of the persons in the apartment should not excuse his intentional behavior. The Maryland Court therefore upheld his convictions of second-degree assault, based on his intent to cause immediate apprehension of bodily harm, with respect to the unknown victims who were in the residence at the time of the shots.
Banks v. State
The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland held that, should a defendant decide to waive his Sixth Amendment right to a trial by jury, the trial court must announce this decision on the record in open court, acknowledging the defendant’s knowing and voluntary waiver of this constitutional right. If this procedural requirement, as set out in the Maryland Rules, is not followed, any resulting convictions will be vacated. See Md. Rule 4-246(b). In this case, Appellant was found guilty by a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge and convicted of child sexual abuse and two counts of fourth degree sexual offense. Appellant’s assertion that the trial court did not substantially comply with Maryland Rule 4-246(b) was upheld. A variance from the procedural requirement, which results in the announcement not being made on the record and in open court, will not meet the strict requirements of this Rule.
The Court also held that the crime of resisting arrest cannot be used to impeach a witness’s credibility, upholding the Montgomery County Circuit Court’s decision to sustain the objection in response to Appellant’s attempt to impeach the State’s witness using this conviction. In Maryland, impeachment by evidence of criminal convictions must either fall under the category of an “infamous crime” or be relevant to the finder of fact on the issue of a witness’s credibility. See Md. Rule 5-609(a). When analyzing the crime of resisting arrest (or other crimes that do not fall under the purview of the latter category) the Maryland Court held that the elements should identify behavior that would tend to show the witness is “unworthy of belief.” See State v. Westpoint, 404 Md. 455, 484 (2008). Based on this analysis, the Court determined that the elements of resisting arrest do not require proof of conduct regarding an accused’s trustworthiness and, therefore, may not be used in a subsequent proceeding to impeach a witness’s credibility.
This ruling acts as a safeguard of sorts, preventing the proponent of irrelevant potential impeachment evidence from injecting doubt on aspects of a witness’s character that have nothing to do with his or her honesty. Furthermore, the Court’s prohibition of impeachment by means of a conviction for resisting arrest will prevent confusion of the issues by the jury.
Thomas v. State.
The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland held that the disclosure of a recorded statement that contains only the verbatim statements of the witness (facts) is not protected under the work product doctrine. In this case, appellant asserted that statements taken and recorded from two State’s witnesses by the defense’s investigator were not subject to disclosure by defense, and that the trial court erroneously ordered defendant’s disclosure under Maryland Rule 4-263(e)(6). Appellant argued that because the statements were not used during trial and were protected by the work product doctrine, they were not discoverable.
However, after a closer analysis of the Rule and defense’s disclosure obligations therefrom, and after reviewing the record and finding that defense counsel would use these statements during trial if one of the witnesses changed their statement, the Maryland Court disagreed. Additionally, the Court found that because the recordings did not reveal the opinions, theories, or “creative thought process or mental impressions of counsel, but rather, they conveyed only the verbatim factual content of the witnesses’ statements” the trial court’s order compelling discovery under Maryland Rule 4-263(e)(6) was warranted.
The Maryland Court also affirmed the lower court’s ruling allowing evidence of appellant’s other crimes after a finding of the following: the evidence fell under one of the exceptions listed in Maryland Rule 5-404(b) or special relevance; clear and convincing evidence of the other crime; and that its probative value outweighed the danger of its prejudicial effect. In this case, appellant was convicted of first degree murder and the State attempted to show, through evidence of a prior drug deal with the victim in the case. Appellant asserted that because the drug charges originated from 2007, evidence from this case was too attenuated and would unfairly prejudice him. However, the Court notes that this drug case was postponed on September 10, 2009 and the victim “was murdered three days later, on September 13, 2009.” Here, the Maryland Court found that this evidence had special relevance towards establishing appellant’s motive.
Additionally, the State’s proffer that court records, testimony from the prosecutor in the drug case, and an audio and video recording of the transaction show his involvement by clear and convincing evidence was accepted by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. Regarding the balancing test, outlined in Maryland Rule 5-403, the Court gave great deference to a trial court judge’s discretion, and in this case found that because there was little explanation regarding the killing, this evidence was probative and outweighed its prejudicial effect.
Khan v. State.
The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland held that the Montgomery County Circuit Court did not err in upholding a Batson challenge when the proponent of the peremptory strike did not provide an explanation that was not pretextual or prove, to the satisfaction of the court, that purposeful discrimination had not occurred. In this case, an employee of a downtown Silver Spring cosmetics store was indicted by a Montgomery County grand jury on charges of committing a sexual offense and second-degree assault. At the conclusion of his trial, he was convicted with one count of second-degree assault. During jury selection, the court made note that appellant’s counsel used five of the allotted peremptory strikes against white men, prompting the court to issue a Batson challenge.
In contesting the Circuit Court ’s Batson challenge, Appellant argued that his race-neutral explanations for striking juror 95 were improperly classified as pretextual. In support of this argument, Appellant cited to the trial judge’s acknowledgement that, counsel was being “candid” during his explanation, but, he “does not have to buy it” as proof that the trial court erroneously categorized the explanation as pretextual. However, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals found this interpretation of the Batson analysis flawed.
Instead, the Maryland Court reasoned that, simply because the trial court believed parts of defense counsel’s reasoning behind the strike, “does not mean that the court was required to exclude the challenged juror.” Rather, the court must also determine whether purposeful discrimination was at play when jurors were stricken (the third step of the Batson analysis). Because the trial judge noted a pattern of strikes against white male jurors, defense counsel’s proffered explanation had not been previously accepted by the trial court, and his prior noted explanations for strikes were inapplicable to juror 95, this Court found that the Montgomery County trial judge did not err in his decision to reseat juror 95.