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The battered spouse and the contract killer

gavel2 1 Whether battered spouse syndrome should be a defense in criminal cases has been a controversial issue for many years. Since 1991, a Maryland statute has made such evidence admissible to prove the defendant’s motive or state of mind at the time of the alleged crime. Whether this defense may be available even where the battered spouse hired someone to kill her husband was addressed by a divided Maryland Court of Appeals this week in a case called Karla Louise Porter v. State of Maryland.
Judge Adkins’ opinion for the 4-3 majority indicates a long history of physical and verbal abuse by the defendant’s husband toward her. The defendant testified at trial that eventually she concluded that she knew her husband was going to kill her and she wanted to kill him first. She approached several, eventually hiring someone to kill him at their place of business, with the defendant calling the police to make it sound like a robbery gone bad. She was arrested and charged with first degree murder. At trial, in addition to testifying to the history of abuse, the defendant called two experts who testified that she was suffering from battered woman syndrome including major depression and posttraumatic stress disorder.

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When commercial information is public information

gavel2 1 Maryland has a Public Information Act which allows for the release of government documents upon request, similar to the federal Freedom of Information Act. Courts are often called upon to decide whether a citizen is entitled to obtain documents in the government’s possession. Maryland’s highest court last week addressed efforts to obtain commercial information through a MPIA request in a case called Jayson Amster v. Rushern Baker, County Executive for Prince George’s County.

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Obtaining public information from police

gavel2 1 Members of the public seeking access to government records, even in this era of reported leaks of documents, is most commonly obtained through the federal Freedom of Information Act or the Maryland equivalent, the Maryland Public Information Act (PIA). The Court of Appeals recently addressed its application to police records in a case called Gary Alan Glass v. Anne Arundel County.

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Court of Appeals Adopts New Bail Rules

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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.

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Power Plants and the power planted in courts

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It is not too often that Maryland’s highest Court is called upon to review the process for approval of facilities such as power plants. This month the Court of Appeals was called upon to do just that in an opinion called Accokeek, Mattawoman, Piscataway Creeks Community Council v. Public Service Commission.

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Defamation and the Burden of Proof

 

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Claims for damages for making false and defamatory statements have been the subject of much publicity recently. Such cases often involve public figures, and the requirement that to overcome First Amendment free speech protections the plaintiff bringing suit must prove actual malicious intent to make false statements.

What standards of proof apply in suits brought by private persons for defamation were explored by Maryland’s highest court in a case called Seley-Ratke v. Hosmane.

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Murder for hire and battered spouses

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Maryland has a statute that permits the introduction of evidence in a criminal case that at the time of committing crimes including murder or manslaughter the defendant was suffering from battered spouse syndrome. The law defines the syndrome as a psychological condition of repeated physical and psychological abuse which is recognized in medicine and science. Whether the syndrome may be part of self-defense in a murder for hire case was explored in a recent 2-1 opinion from Maryland’s intermediate appellate court in the case of Karla Louse Porter v. State.

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Limits on the social hosts liabilities

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As previously discussed in this space, Maryland’s highest Court in a recent opinion called Kiriakos v. Phillips recognized that adults who violate a criminal statute that prohibits knowingly allowing underage drinkers to get intoxicated on their property may be sued civilly for injuries caused by that consumption of alcohol. Maryland’s intermediate appellate Court last week explored the limits of the Court of Appeal’s recent decision, in a new case called Hansberger v. Smith.

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The tie goes to the "One" parent

 

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Most judges will say that child custody decisions in divorce cases are among the thorniest problems with which they must deal. Maryland’s Court of Appeals in a 1986 opinion approved the concept of joint custody of the children after a divorce, designed to give each parent an equal say in important decisions in their child’s life. That decision held that the most important factor in whether to make an award of joint custody was the ability of the parents to communicate and make shared decisions. What happens when there is no ability for the parents to effectively communicate was explored by a recent case from Maryland’s highest Court called Santo v. Santo.

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Probation for the sex offender parent

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Those individuals convicted of sexual offenses understandably face not only punishment which may include prison, but limitations on their freedoms if they are granted probation after release from incarceration.  Whether the terms of probation can be applicable even to limit the defendant’s parental rights was explored by Maryland’s Court of Appeals in a recent case called Troy Robert Allen v. State of Maryland.

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