Monster-At-Law: The Halloween Quiz


A. Voodoo. Although, in Haitian folklore, voodoo can be used to turn the dead into zombies, parties in appellate cases have generally used the term to describe their sluggish or unresponsive mental or physical state. See Wilson v. Ozmint, 352 F.3d 847, 861 n. 10 (4th Cir. 2003) (defendant argued that his counsel should have put on testimony about his “zombie-type” appearance as evidence of his social difficulties); Homesley v. Freightliner Corp., 61 F. App’x 105, 111 (4th Cir. 2003) (plaintiff described having depression as feeling like a zombie); Porter v. McCollum, 558 U.S. 30, 34 (2009) (defendant’s former military commander described the defendant’s unit during the Korean War as going into battle “like zombies” from weariness and hunger); In re Deontay J., 408 Md. 152, 155 (2009) (child’s mother alleged to be in a “zombie like” state from intoxication).


B. Contracts. In Burka v. Patrick, 34 Md. App. 181 (1976), the appellee assigned his rights to a real-estate purchase contract to a couple, but the husband died the day before settlement and the wife didn’t go through with it. When sued for non-performance of the contract, the wife claimed that her husband’s death terminated their contractual liability. On appeal, the Court disagreed, holding that, “absent a provision in a contract to the contrary, death no more excuses the performance of a non-personal service contract than it exempts persons from its own grasp.” Id. at 187.


A. Yes. In Stroble v. State of Cal., 343 U.S. 181, 192-193 (1952), a defendant accused of a heinous child murder was described in local newspapers as, among other things, a “werewolf,” a reference that stuck all the way through his trial. On appeal, he claimed that the inflammatory stories had made it impossible to receive a fair trial. The Court noted that he had not moved for a change of venue because of the newspaper accounts or even brought them to the trial court’s attention until after he was convicted; nor was there any evidence that the jurors had ever even seen or read the articles. The Court ultimately concluded that there was no indication that the newspaper accounts had “aroused against him such prejudice in the community as to necessarily prevent a fair trial.” Id.


C. Explain why a reference to the books in a letter from an adult to a child was evidence of sexual abuse. The defendant, a teacher, wrote numerous love letters to a student, one of which read, “I feel like Cullen in the Twilight stories and you are the girl.” Walker v. State, 432 Md. 587, 598 (2013). Although the court held that a fact-finder need not “parse every statement individually and characterize it as being sexually exploitative or not” in order to decide that sexual abuse had occurred, id. at 624, it nonetheless took the time to describe how Twilight’s “archetypal love story[] combining the young adult genre with vampire-romance-themed fantasy” was, as the trial court found, “geared toward teenagers and younger [children] and clearly involve[d] romance.” Id. at 599 n. 4.


E. All of the above. Frankenstein’s monster seems to be a recurring analogy-of-choice among appellate judges. See, e.g., Stueber v. Arrowhead Farm Estates Ltd. P’ship, 69 Md. App. 775, 781 (1987) (by agreeing to a time schedule it couldn’t abide by, developer, “like Dr. Frankenstein, may be undone by the monster it created”); State v. Siegel, 266 Md. 256, 257-258 (1972) (case about the legality of wiretapping “points up the great problems both legal and moral that we must again ponder in the wake of mankind’s continuing scientific advancement — an advancement that staggers the imagination with its potential for good but causes us pause for fear that we may create ‘Frankenstein’s’ monster and be unable to channel its growth”); Louis K. Liggett Co. v. Lee, 288 U.S. 517, 567 (1933) (“Such is the Frankenstein monster which states have created by their corporation laws.”); United States v. Burgos, 94 F.3d 849, 859 (4th Cir. 1996) (disagreeing that the crime of conspiracy is “a Frankenstein’s monster that has grown out of control”).


B. John Wilkes Booth. History tells us that John Wilkes Booth was killed in 1965 by a U.S. cavalry unit at a farm in Port Royal, Va., and eventually buried at the family plot in Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore. That official line, however, was challenged 42 years later by a Texas attorney, Finis L. Bates, who claimed in a book that he had met John Wilkes Booth living under an assumed name in 1872 and that Booth had committed suicide in 1903 in Oklahoma. Armed with this supposed knowledge, Bates did what any rational lawyer would do in his situation, which is, of course, to have the body mummified and show it off at carnival sideshows. In Kline v. Green Mount Cemetery, 110 Md. App. 383, 394 (1996), the Court of Appeals decided whether a group of historians and distant Booth relatives were entitled to exhume the Green Mount grave to put this purported mystery to rest. Noting that at least three expert witnesses declared the Bates book a fraud, the court held that the trial judge was justified “in finding that the man buried in the Booth family plot in June, 1869, was John Wilkes Booth” and there were insufficient reasons “to doubt the documented history.” The court therefore affirmed the denial of the petition.


D. The Baltimore Orioles. Not too surprisingly, Satan shows up somewhat regularly in the pleadings of parties with questionable mental health, for example, defending a complaint explaining that “our entire planet is now operating under a Luciferian (Satanic) shadow world government,” “an international Satanic child trafficking conspiracy operates within ‘child protective services’ and the CIA” to provide children for human sacrifices, Satanists are “operating at the highest levels of the United States government,” and “pedophile sex orgies with high ranking federal officials occur at the White House and at the ‘Bohemian Grove,’ where, for more than 120 years, world leaders have participated in bizarre Satanic rituals,” Stratton v. Mecklenburg Cnty. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 521 F. App’x 278, 281 (4th Cir. 2013) (internal punctuation removed); other recent appellants, meanwhile, have complained that they couldn’t receive a fair trial because the judicial system is ran by agents of Satan, see  Sibug v. State, No. 2211 Sept. Term 2012, (Md. Ct. Spec. App. Oct. 2, 2014). There is also, however, an interesting niche of U.S. Supreme Court cases dealing with prosecution of Jehovah’s witnesses for their public statements about Satan and the like. In Cantwell v. State of Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 309 (1940), the Court overturned the conviction of a Jehovah’s witness charged with inciting a breach of the peace for going door-to-door in a predominantly Catholic neighborhood and playing a recording that attacked all organized religions as being “instruments of Satan.” Three years later, the Court took up the case of another Jehovah’s witness who had circulated a book alleging that Satan was causing schools to compel students to engage in the idolatrous practice of saluting the flag. It just so happened that Mississippi had an on-point statute prohibiting the distribution of printed material that would cause people to refuse to salute the American flag, but the Court tossed out her conviction as violating the 14th Amendment. Taylor v. State of Mississippi, 319 U.S. 583 (1943). There aren’t any reported opinions in which the Orioles were allegedly controlled by Satan — but something has to explain their performance in the American League Championship Series this year.


C. Poltergeist. The program leaders decided to show it on a Friday the 13th. A child in the program sued on allegations that the movie caused her extreme anxiety and psychological distress manifested by insomnia, nightmares, and a fear of being left alone. The Court barred the claims against the City on a number of grounds, but held that the lawsuit could go forward against the individual program operators.


E. All of the above. By now, you should know that if “all of the above” is an option, it’s the answer. Accusations of witchcraft have been mixed up in all kinds of appellate disputes, including divorce, Lloyd v. Lloyd, 204 Md. 352, 355 (1954) (marital problems partially due to husband’s belief that his wife’s mother was teaching her witchcraft); the insanity defense, Hotema v. United States, 186 U.S. 413, 419 (1902) (murder defendant believed his victim was a witch); labor disputes, F.W. Woolworth Co. v. N.L.R.B., 892 F.2d 1041 (4th Cir. 1989) (company accused union organizers of using witchcraft to intimidate employees in a representation election); and business permits, Marks v. City of Chesapeake, Va., 883 F.2d 308, 309 (4th Cir. 1989) (fortune-teller seeking business permit opposed by residents equating the practice with witchcraft).


D. Reasonable doubt. See Himple v. State, 101 Md. App. 579, 584 (1994) (“Many trial judges, including some who are now on this Court, and many members of the Bar, have considered the concept of reasonable doubt to be a vague, almost wraith-like, concept that needs to be further explained[.]”).

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