Archive | April 2021

Court of Appeals Clears Baltimore City Excise Tax on Clear Channel’s Billboards

By Alan B. Sternstein

In Clear Channel Outdoor, Inc. v. Dep’t of Finance, No. 9, September Term, 2020 (decided Mar. 15, 2021), the Court of Appeals recently affirmed the January 2020 decision of the Court of Special Appeals, which had ruled that Baltimore’s excise tax on billboards did not violate the First Amendment or Article 40 of the Maryland Constitution. Clear Channel Outdoor, Inc. v. Dep’t of Finance, 244 Md. App. 304, 223 A.3d 1050 (2020). An April 15, 2020 post on this Blog previously discussed the decision of the Court of Special Appeals. The decision of the Court of Appeals, though affirming the Court of Special Appeals, provides important clarification with regard to assessing the constitutionality of speech constraints effected by regulation of the means, as opposed to the content, of speech.

Specifically, in reaching its decision, the Court of Special Appeals implied that regulation which limited or burdened only the means of communication was without First Amendment significance.  As will be reviewed in this post, the April 15, 2020 post argued otherwise, in principle and discussing relevant Supreme Court precedents.  In reaching its decision, the Court of Appeals was clear that such regulation, though impacting only the noncommunicative, means of speech, also required First Amendment attention.

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April 2021 Maryland Certiorari Grants

On Friday, the Court of Appeals of Maryland (which will probably be renamed the Supreme Court of Maryland in 19 months) granted review in three appeals, all criminal, to be argued in September.

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Maryland appellate courts likely getting new names, maybe new building

By Steve Klepper (Twitter: @MDAppeal)

As Steve Lash reported at The Daily Record on Wednesday, the 2022 general election ballot will include a proposed constitutional amendment under which the Court of Appeals of Maryland would become the Supreme Court of Maryland, its members would be called “Chief Justice” and “Justice,” and the Court of Special Appeals would become the Appellate Court of Maryland.

Although the election is 19 months away, the amendment is overwhelmingly likely to win approval on November 8, 2022. By my count, 29 constitutional amendments have gone before Maryland voters since 1994, and voters have approved all but two. Nearly all have received at least two-thirds (67%) support. The only amendments to fail were controversial proposals to raise the judicial retirement age to 75 in 1994 (which came close to passage with 48% of the vote), and to allow “quick take” condemnation of property for redevelopment in Prince George’s County in 2000 (which garnered only 38% support). Only one other amendment came close to rejection—a 2002 amendment relating to emergency legislative powers won 50.6% approval.

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Affording Strong Deference to Police Training and Experience has Fourth Amendment Implications

By Megan E. Coleman

As a practicing criminal defense attorney, it is noticeable that far too often prosecutors in stop and search cases are able to win suppression hearings based in large part on the officer’s training and experience rather than the actual substance of the observations. Prosecutors simply establish the officer’s background and then extract an opinion that in the particular case the officer believed, based on his training and experience, that what he observed was consistent with a drug transaction or a furtive movement. Add in a fact that the officer had been tailing the defendant because of a tip received by a known reliable informant and the order denying the motion to suppress gets signed, sealed, and delivered to the defendant.

This is precisely what occurred in the Fourth Circuit in United States v. Tremayne Drakeford, No. 19-4912 (decided Mar. 26, 2021) (Opinion by Thacker, J., joined by Gregory, C.J., with Wynn, J. concurring). An experienced law enforcement officer witnessed what he believed was a “hand-to-hand” drug transaction between Appellant and others, after he had been alerted by a confidential informant (CI) whom he had used approximately 50 times before, that Appellant was a suspected drug dealer. With that information officers stopped and frisked Appellant, yielding the recovery of drugs from Appellant’s sweatshirt pocket. The district court denied Appellant’s motion to suppress the drugs.

In a refreshing opinion (at least for any defense attorney), the Fourth Circuit not only reversed the district court’s denial of the motion to suppress, but the majority and concurring opinions cogently educated the police, the prosecutor, and the suppression court that the Fourth Amendment requires more than rote reliance on an officer’s training and experience.

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