Archive | October 2020

Maryland Court of Appeals Criminal Decisions, 2019 Term

By Steve Klepper (Twitter: @MDAppeal)

To follow up on last year’s post, I’ve continued to track merits-stage decisions by the Court of Appeals of Maryland in criminal cases.  

During the September 2019 Term (9/1/2019 to 8/31/2020), the Court of Appeals decided 27 criminal appeals following argument.[1] Below is my categorization of those decisions.

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Harmless Error in Court of Special Appeals Opinions, 2017 to 2020

By Erica Becker
Guest Contributor[*]

Maryland precedent indicates that in criminal cases, a significant majority of errors will not be deemed harmless on appeal. The burden is on the State to show errors are harmless, and that burden is quite high:

“Harmless error review is the standard of review most favorable to the defendant short of an automatic reversal.” Bellamy v. State, 403 Md. 308, 333, 941 A.2d 1107 (2008). When we have determined that the trial court erred in a criminal case, “reversal is required unless the error did not influence the verdict.” Id. at 332, 941 A.2d 1107 (citation omitted). “To say that an error did not contribute to the verdict is … to find that error unimportant in relation to everything else the jury considered on the issue in question, as revealed by the record.” Id. (citation omitted). In other words, reversal is required unless we find that the error was harmless. We have explained that an “error is harmless only if it did not play any role in the jury’s verdict.” Id. (emphasis added) (citation omitted). The State carries the burden of proving, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the error meets this high standard. Dionas v. State, 436 Md. 97, 108, 80 A.3d 1058 (2013) (citation omitted).

Porter v. State, 455 Md. 220, 234, 166 A.3d 1044, 1052 (2017).

However, a review Court of Special Appeals opinions from recent years indicates that in practice, errors are deemed harmless approximately half the time.

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A Maryland Guide to Judicial Recusal

By Derek M. Stikeleather

Recusal standards for appellate judges rarely trend on social media. But the recent nomination of Seventh Circuit Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the United States Supreme Court has spawned widespread popular debate over whether she should recuse herself from deciding any cases involving the results of the 2020 Presidential election. Regrettably, most media soundbites on the issue offer little more than partisan excerpts of her supporters saying that she should not recuse herself and her critics arguing that she should. Few delve into the controlling rules and standards.

Ultimately, a Justice Barrett recusal seems unlikely for one simple reason: At the Supreme Court, the recusal decision rests exclusively with the Justice herself and is not subject to further review. Thus, absent any unambiguous precedent that requires her recusal or a statement from Judge Barrett that she plans to recuse herself from election cases, she appears unlikely to do so.

While I have nothing special to add to the arguments for or against a potential Justice Barrett recusal, the uproar prompted me to look more closely at Maryland’s standards for recusing appellate judges. Here’s what I found:

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Court of Appeals reviews moot appeal from a non-final judgment – In re O.P.

By Brad McCullough

As we know, courts typically refrain from deciding cases that do not present real, live justiciable controversies. Where the passage of time has erased the dispute that once existed between the parties, a court will generally dismiss that case as being moot. That’s not always the case, however, as there are narrow exceptions to that general proposition. We also know that appellate courts generally have jurisdiction only over appeals from final judgments, i.e. orders or judgments that adjudicate all claims against all parties. But again, there are exceptions to this general rule.

Recently, in an opinion authored by Judge Robert McDonald, the Court of Appeals decided a moot case in an appeal taken from a non-final judgment: In re O.P., No. 26, Sept. Term, 2019, 2020 WL 4726601 (Aug. 14, 2020). Due to the public interest presented by the litigation—and the fact that the litigation presented a controversy capable of repetition, yet evading review—the Court considered the case even though it had become moot. And because the appeal conclusively determined an important issue separate from the merits of the action that would be effectively unreviewable if the appeal had to await entry of a final judgment, review was allowed under the collateral order doctrine.  

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October 2020 Maryland Certiorari Grants

The Court of Appeals granted certiorari in these six cases today:

Larry S. Chavis, et al. v. Blibaum and Associates, P.A.; Bryione K. Moore, et al. v. Peak Management LLC – Case No. 30, September Term, 2020 (Reported CSA Opinion, by Judge Berger)

Issues – Commercial Law – 1) Does using a wage garnishment to collect excess post-judgment interest and post-judgment filing fees constitute a violation of the Maryland Consumer Debt Collection Act, Md. Code §14-202(8) of the Commercial Law Article? 2) Does a trial court abuse its discretion by denying a motion for class certification, without conducting a hearing, when the undisputed evidence presented to the Court established that the identity of every class member can be established from the Respondent’s records?

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Terrence Zic Appointed to Court of Special Appeals

Today Governor Larry Hogan appointed Terrence Mark Ranko Zic, of Whiteford Taylor Preston in Rockville to the Court of Special Appeals, filling the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Alexander Wright, Jr. The Governor appointed Zic from a list of nine nominees.

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