Menu

Court Report

Judges determine life without parole

gavel2 1 When the Maryland General Assembly in 2013 abolished the death penalty, it amended certain statutes to accomplish that. This included a provision for the trial judge to hold a hearing, after appropriate notice from the State, to determine whether to impose a sentence for first degree murder of life imprisonment, or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. It left intact another provision about what may happen if this issue was submitted to a jury that did not impose the death penalty. Maryland’s Court of Appeals has now clarified that it is the trial judge who makes the decision whether to impose life without parole, in a case called Darrell Bellard v. State of Maryland.

The opinion indicates that the case involved a horrendous crime where two women and two children were murdered by being shot in the head. Bellard was a drug dealer from Texas, who admitted to being angry with one of the women. He eventually confessed to the shootings. The prosecution filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty, but before the case went to trial the legislature changed the law to abolish death as a possible sentence. The State then filed a notice changing its request to life without parole.

Read more...

Balancing the social media fix

 

gavel2 1 The Courts have made it clear that public employees do not give up all their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech when they make statements on matters in the public interest. However, those rights are balanced against the government’s interest in controlling the operation of its workforce. How these principles fit into today’s social media world was explored in an opinion last week from the federal 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in a case called Kevin Patrick Buker v. Howard County.

The opinion indicates that Buker was battalion chief with the Howard County Fire Department, which in their chain of command placed him below the fire chief and his assistants and deputies. The Department in 2012 published social media guidelines, which prohibited personnel “from posting or publishing any statements, endorsements, or other speech…which could reasonably be interpreted to represent or undermine the views or positions of the Department…or interpreted as discriminatory, harassing, defamatory, racially or ethnically derogatory, or sexually violent” which may put the Department in disrepute of negatively impact its mission. The Department also adopted a Code of Conduct barring conduct through actions or words disrespectful to or undermining the Chain of Command.

Read more...

Drug users as competent witnesses

gavel2 1

 

It is up to a trial judge to make the determination during trial as to whether a witness is competent to be a witness.
Last week, for the first time, a Maryland appellate Court was called upon to decide whether a witness who admitted taking heroin on the morning she testified was competent to testify.
The case is called Jesus Garduno Cruz v. State.
The opinion from the Court of Special Appeals indicates that the sole issue on appeal involved the testimony of the victim who was the main witness at trial.
She testified that the defendant kidnapped her, drove her to a field and raped her at gunpoint. She said the fought with the defendant and escaped, and there was physical evidence admitted proving the sexual assault.
On cross-examination, the victim admitted that she was a heroin addict and a prostitute.
She also admitted that she had used heroin at 6:30 that morning.

Read more...

Maryland need not honor Virginia

gavel2  1

There has been much discussion about efforts taken in Virginia to restore the legal rights of convicted felons, including the right to vote as well as the right to possess firearms. Recently those rights in Maryland were explored by the federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of James Hamilton v. William Pallozzi.

Read more...

‘Hey I didn’t do it - he did’ defense

gavel2  1

The courts are frequently called upon in criminal cases to determine whether a search by the police violated a defendant’s 4th Amendment constitutional protection from unreasonable searches and seizures. Many of these cases involve a search where no warrant was involved, but sometimes the warrant itself may be at issue. This is illustrated by an unreported opinion this month from Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals in a case called Hector Colon v. State.

Read more...

Court of Appeals Adopts New Bail Rules

gavel2  1

Last week Maryland’s Court of Appeals unanimously decided to adopt new rules to change the way bail is set when a person charged with a crime comes before a judicial officer. This follows extensive publicity and discussion as to whether poor people who cannot afford to post bail were disproportionately having to remain in jail pending trial.

Read more...

“Stop and frisk” has its limits

gavel2  1

The authority of police officers to “stop and frisk” alleged suspects was established by the Supreme Court nearly 50 years ago in a case called Terry v. Ohio. The Supreme Court placed significant limitations on the authority of the police to conduct warrantless searches of suspects, which the Courts are frequently called upon to review. One such case is a recent opinion authored by Senior Judge Charles Moylan, Jr. in a case called Brandon Ames v. State.

Read more...

All we are is dust in the wind

gavel2  1

When the Courts are called upon to review decisions of administrative agencies on technical issues such as air pollution levels, they have to balance deferring to the expertise of the agency with the judicial obligation to interpret statutes and regulations. This can make it hard at times to reach judicial consensus, as illustrated by the 4-3 decision in a case from Maryland’s Court of Appeals this month called Kor-ko, Ltd. v. Maryland Department of the Environment.

Read more...

Sometimes appealing the vote outcome is moot

gavel2  1

This past election cycle saw many attempts at legal challenges related to voting, including claims that persons who should be allowed to vote were being disenfranchised. While the Courts have to grapple with these issues, sometimes the timing of the legal challenge as a practical matter makes the merits of the claim moot because the Court does not have time to do anything about it. This is illustrated by an opinion this week from Maryland’s highest Court in a case called Voters Organized for the Integrity of City Elections (VOICE) v. Baltimore City Elections Board.

Read more...