Archive | Analysis RSS for this section

When can a haircut amount to destruction or concealment of evidence?

By Brad McCullough

When can a haircut amount to destruction or concealment of evidence? That question was before the Court of Special Appeals in Rainey v. State, No. 3094, Sept. Term 2018 (Sept. 28, 2021). The defendant was charged with murder. At the time of the slaying, he sported long dreadlocks, but when he was arrested, his hair was close-cropped. As the appellate court noted, the Court of Appeals has said “that a jury may infer consciousness of guilt if a defendant alters his appearance after the commission of a crime.” But Maryland does not have a pattern jury instruction that covers that issue. At trial, the prosecution did not propose a customized jury instruction, but instead asked the circuit court to give the pattern jury instruction that covers destruction or concealment of evidence. The court gave that instruction and the jury returned a guilty verdict. Did the trial court err in giving that instruction? Does cutting hair destroy evidence?  

Read More…

The Proliferation of Dissents from the Denial of Rehearing En Banc

By Megan E. Coleman

Each week my email inbox receives links to published opinions released by the Fourth Circuit. When I saw the link for Jane Doe v. Fairfax County School Board, No. 19-2203, I almost did not click on it. It was an order denying rehearing en banc and my first thought was, what could be enlightening about that? Luckily, I thought twice. After all, the Fourth Circuit decided to publish this order, so there must be more to it. Indeed, there was.

The first line of the order reads as one would expect: “The court denies the petition for rehearing en banc.” But what follows is an unexpected exchange between a concurring opinion and two dissenting opinions in which the concurrence writes to “confront” the dissent about a practice that is appearing with more frequency in the Fourth Circuit – dissenting from denials of rehearing en banc.

Read More…

“Don’t Say Daubert”? Why Not?

By Derek Stikeleather

No one likes to arrive at a party just as the fun is ending and the guests are leaving. Yet, within a year of the Court of Appeals completing its two-decade journey towards formally adopting the Daubert standard for admitting expert testimony, see Rochkind v. Stevenson, 471 Md. 1 (2020), a nationwide legal movement has begun rallying behind the slogan “Don’t Say Daubert.” Has Maryland arrived at the Daubert party only to see everyone else leave?

Read More…

In Reversing Tax Court Decision, Court of Special Appeals Demonstrates Agencies’ Power to Shape the Law

By John Grimm

Appeals of administrative agency decisions can be deceiving. While they often involve dry and highly technical matters, they also contain some of the trickiest and most interesting problems regarding courts’ powers over a coordinate branch of government’s exercise of its legal authority. The Court of Special Appeals recently proved that in the administrative law world, important concepts can arise out of seemingly minor regulatory decisions: In this case, a $2,554.37 tax assessment.

Comptroller v. Atwood, involved the proper application of Maryland Annotated Code, Tax-General § 11-208(c)(1), which makes aircraft used principally for interstate commerce exempt from a state sales and use tax. The appellee paid $34,000 for 1958 Beechcraft airplane, which he used primarily to train his son how to fly, and to travel back and forth to JFK Airport where he worked. The Comptroller assessed a $2,040.00 sales and use tax plus interest and a penalty totaling $2,554.37. The appellate disputed the tax, first before the Comptroller, and then in the Tax Court. The Comptroller affirmed the assessment, holding that the appellee’s use of the plane was not interstate commerce and did not qualify for a tax exemption.

Read More…

Dissenters Say Supreme Court Majority Takes Easy Out In Controversial Case

By Megan E. Coleman

On June 28, 2021, the United States Supreme Court issued a per curiam opinion in Jody Lombardo, et al. v. City of St. Louis, Missouri, et al., No. 20-391. The question presented to the Supreme Court was whether a reasonable jury could find that officers used excessive force when they put a handcuffed and shackled person face-down on the ground and pressed into his back until he suffocated to death.

Rather than decide the issue, the per curiam opinion punted the question back to the Eighth Circuit, reasoning that the Eighth Circuit had discounted “insignificant” facts that might have made a difference when deciding whether to grant summary judgment on an excessive force claim. The Supreme Court also asked the Eighth Circuit to clarify whether it believed that the use of a prone restraint is per se constitutional so long as an individual appears to resist officers’ efforts to subdue him.

True to per curiam format, this opinion fails to list an author or name the justices comprising the majority. However, this per curiam opinion features a dissent by Justice Alito, which was joined by Justice Thomas and Justice Gorsuch. The dissent calls into question whether this was a proper use of a per curiam opinion, or instead, whether it was used to avoid deciding a controversial issue in the midst of a social justice movement.

The timing of the issuance of this per curiam opinion fuels the argument by the dissent as this per curiam opinion was issued just three days after Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin was sentenced for the murder of George Floyd. The Lombardo case presented facts akin to those in George Floyd’s case and ultimately called for a similar determination of whether the police used excessive force under the circumstances.

Read More…

Supreme Court’s Latest Fourth Amendment Case Clarifies Exigent Circumstances Doctrine

By John Grimm

The Supreme Court recently clarified the limits of law enforcement’s ability to enter a fleeing suspect’s home without a warrant in Lange v. California. While the Fourth Amendment generally requires police to get a search warrant before coming into a house, they can make a warrantless entry under certain exigent circumstances.[1] Lange presented the question whether the pursuit of a fleeing misdemeanor suspect is categorically an exigent circumstance. The Court held that it is not—exigency must be assessed on a case-by-case basis, and a suspect’s flight is only one circumstance that officers should weigh in making that assessment.

Read More…

The Future of Daubert in Maryland

By Derek Stikeleather

I revisit my favorite Maryland Appellate Blog topic, the admissibility of expert testimony in Maryland courts, because it continues to generate fresh, important questions for judges and practitioners. With the Court of Appeals formally adopting Daubert as the standard for construing Maryland Rule 5-702 in all state courts, see Rochkind v. Stevenson, 471 Md. 1 (2020), Federal Rule of Evidence 702 has become, for all intents and purposes, as relevant as Maryland Rule 5-702. This is so because courts cannot adopt Daubert without adopting FRE 702.

But the unusual historical interplay between the Supreme Court’s 1993 Daubert decision and the original FRE 702 can obscure FRE 702’s primacy in a Daubert analysis. The 2020 Rochkind decision—by nominally adopting “Daubert” rather than FRE 702—similarly risks confusion if Maryland courts try to “apply Rochkind/Daubert.” Maryland courts and practitioners must be clear-eyed that, in all expert challenges, they are now applying Maryland Rule 5-702 and FRE 702. And both rules continue to evolve.

Read More…

Recoverable damages for killing a pet.

By Brad McCullough

The Court of Appeals was recently faced with a tragic case involving the senseless slaying of a dog and the resulting spirited debate over the interpretation of a statute that addresses damages for the injury or death of a pet. In Anne Arundel Cty. v. Reeves, No. 68, Sept. Term, 2019 (Md. June 7, 2021), Chief Judge Barbera authored the majority opinion, holding that the statute unambiguously limits compensatory damages to the amount specified by that statute and does not allow recovery of noneconomic compensatory damages for the tortious injury or death of a pet. In a forceful dissent, Judge Hotten urged a broader reading of that statute that would allow recovery of noneconomic compensatory damages for the grossly negligent killing of a pet.

Read More…

The Institution of the Judiciary and Judicial Review, American Democracy’s Lifeline

By Alan B. Sternstein

Until recently, the social and political institutions of the United States long enjoyed, largely, the respect and the fealty of its citizenry. Though their raison d’etre vary, our institutions our schools, houses of worship, courts, legislatures and more all serve a common and fundamental function. They facilitate the conduct of orderly and rational discourse aimed at achieving consensus of purpose, in, importantly but not exclusively, matters of education, worship, governance, and commerce. Plainly, however, institutions do not guarantee discourse having such quality and effect. That depends, instead, on the character of each institution’s members. Given their essential function and the vital purposes, how is it that our most important institutions, those of government, have fallen so far in function and repute? Certainly bearing responsibility, at the federal and even state levels, has been the Supreme Court’s insensitivity to, if not abdication of, the unique position it occupies to protect our democratic form of government, which judicial proclivity is the subject of this post. We start first, though, with some political theory.

Read More…

Divergence Between the Fourth Circuit and Maryland in Extending Arizona v. Gant to Non-Vehicular Searches Incident to a Lawful Arrest

By Megan E. Coleman

Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332 (2009) involved the search of a vehicle after the driver had been lawfully arrested, handcuffed, and locked in a patrol car. The Supreme Court rendered two holdings, the first, which is relevant for this post, held that the police may not use the search incident to a lawful arrest exception to the warrant requirement to search a vehicle incident to a recent occupant’s arrest after the arrestee has been secured and cannot access the interior of the vehicle.

Gant’s first holding was premised upon Chimel v. California, 395 U.S. 752 (1969), a non-vehicular search case in which it was determined that police may search incident to arrest only the space within an arrestee’s “immediate control”, meaning “the area from within which he might gain possession of a weapon or destructible evidence.” The Chimel holding was then applied to vehicle searches in New York v. Belton, 453 U.S. 454 (1981).

However, the Gant Court limited Belton’s reach, based upon Chimel, since the purpose of allowing a search to prevent a suspect from gaining possession of a weapon or destroying evidence would be rendered nugatory where the suspect has already been secured and cannot access the interior of the vehicle.

For the past decade, in Maryland and in the Fourth Circuit, the holding in Gant has been applied exclusively to vehicle searches.

But on May 7, 2021, in United States v. Howard Davis, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit joined three other federal circuits in concluding that the holding in Gant applies to searches of non-vehicular containers as well. Now, police can conduct warrantless searches of non-vehicular containers incident to a lawful arrest, but “only when the arrestee is unsecured and within reaching distance of the [container] at the time of the search.”

Read More…