When George Orwell published his novel “1984” in 1949, it presented many impossibilities of the future—computers and other artificial intelligence, Big Brother watching every person’s move, and all of the incredible trappings of science fiction stories that many of us enjoy as a break from reality. As the real 1984 approached, technology had not achieved the level imagined in the novel: Computers were huge and immovable; portable phones looked like bricks; and the internet was a newfangled system that few people used.
By Michael Wein
Last week, as noted by Blog Editor-in-Chief Steve Klepper, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a short four-page summary reversal of the Maryland Court of Appeals’ decision in Kulbicki v. State. The reversal followed three relists for the case at the end of the last term, a circumstance I covered in a post in June. Both posts noted a likelihood of some written decision being issued, either a summary reversal or an opinion regarding denial of certiorari.
By Michael Wein,
Well, we’re one week away until the Maryland Court of Appeals’ self-imposed deadline of Monday, August 31, 2015, for deciding all cases in the September Term. Per the “Pending Cases” page on the Court of Appeals’ website, four, count that, only four, decisions are left, one from April (State v. Dykes), one from May (State v. Waine), and two from June (State v. Westray and Wicomico County Department of Social Services v. B.A.). The two from June may not reflect any particular disagreements between the judges, but are pending simply because they were the most recently argued, or, in the case of Westray, because it will be decided in tandem with the Dykes case from April, as both involve issues about the right to discharge counsel. The “Questions Presented,” as posed on the Court of Appeals’ web page, for all remaining cases are listed below.
On August 5, a divided panel of the Fourth Circuit decided United States v. Graham, a Hobbs Act robbery case originating in the District of Maryland. Although the Appellants raised several challenges to their convictions, the most interesting issue was whether the Court should extend Fourth Amendment protections to records about where and when a mobile phone connected to antennas and electronic communications equipment on a cellular network, data called “cell-site location information” (CSLI). Senior Judge Andre Davis, one of the Fourth Circuit judges from Maryland, wrote the majority opinion, holding that users of cellphones have a reasonable expectation of privacy in historical CSLI, at least where such information covers an extensive period of time. Judge Davis was joined by Judge Thacker in that conclusion. One of the other Maryland judges on the Court, Judge Diana Motz, dissented from that portion of the majority opinion.
By Michael Wein
The Maryland case of Kulbicki v. State, involving the post-conviction relief appropriate for those convicted with help from the now thoroughly discredited FBI “comparative bullet lead analysis” (“CBLA”), was one of the “blockbuster” cases of last year, as noted by fellow Blog editor Brad McCullough in a post discussing how the case unexpectedly did not decide larger issues and by myself on a list of some of the “longest pending cases” in the 2013-2014 Term (Kulbicki being the longest). The 4-3 Court of Appeals decision and majority opinion by Judge Lynne Battaglia, instead of dealing with potentially more sweeping issues that could have also been addressed in the case, concentrated more narrowly on Kulbicki’s entitlement to a post-conviction remedy under a regular ineffective-assistance-of-counsel analysis, despite that potential error not being earlier presented in the certiorari petition. As Judge Robert McDonald’s dissent noted, the case “reverses Mr. Kulbicki’s conviction on the basis that his trial counsel failed to anticipate [that CBLA would one day be deemed inadmissible] and thereby provided ineffective assistance of counsel in their cross-examination of the prosecution’s CBLA forensic expert – a ground not briefed by either party in this appeal and not among the questions on which we granted the writ of certiorari in this case.”
Only recently has the media been focusing on a sneaky-big Supreme Court case out of Maryland, Comptroller v. Wynne. Just last week, Bill Turque at the Washington Post noted the potentially major consequences in Maryland and beyond. The question is whether Maryland tax law, in denying a county income tax credit for income tax paid in other states on out-of-state income, discriminates against interstate commerce in violation of the so-called “dormant” or “negative” commerce clause. Read More…
The odds that the full Fourth Circuit will review the good faith of pre-2012 warrantless GPS tracking
In United States v. Stephens, a divided panel of the Fourth Circuit affirmed a holding of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland that the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule applied to police officers’ concededly unconstitutional warrantless use of a GPS device to track a suspect and obtain evidence in furtherance of his prosecution. Judge Dennis Shedd, an appointee of President George W. Bush, wrote the majority opinion, joined by Senior Judge Clyde Hamilton, an appointee of President George H.W. Bush. An appointee of President Obama, Judge Stephanie Thacker, wrote a dissenting opinion.
A petition for rehearing en banc almost certainly will be filed by the defendant. The question then will become whether the six Obama appointees who are active judges on the Court — and at least two other judges appointed by prior presidents — will choose this Fourth Amendment good-faith case as one to plant their flag in en banc. As I explain below, I doubt that this case will result in a very rare grant of rehearing en banc.
On August 12, 2014, a divided Fourth Circuit denied a petition for rehearing en banc that had been filed by capital defendant Alejandro Umaña. Umaña had sought the rehearing en banc of a panel opinion, 750 F.3d 320 (4th Cir. 2014), in which a majority held that the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause does not apply to the sentencing selection phase of capital sentencing. Eight judges (Chief Judge Traxler, Judge Wilkinson, Judge Niemeyer, Judge King, Judge Shedd, Judge Duncan, Judge Agee, and Judge Floyd) voted to deny the rehearing en banc, while five (Judge Motz, Judge Gregory, Judge Keenan, Judge Wynn, and Judge Thacker) voted to grant the petition.
A leader in the MS-13 transnational criminal gang, Umaña was convicted in federal court of murdering two brothers (who were not affiliated with any gang) in a bar in Greensboro, N.C., after the brothers got into an argument with Umaña and other MS-13 members about the music that should be played on the jukebox. After the jury found Umaña eligible for the death penalty in the first portion of the sentencing phase, the proceeding moved to the sentencing selection phase. Over Umaña’s objection, the district court allowed the government to introduce hearsay testimony from Los Angeles police detectives concerning statements that MS-13 informants had given the detectives implicating Umaña in several unrelated murders in Los Angeles. Umaña argued that the Confrontation Clause required the government to produce the informants themselves at the sentencing selection phase. In a 2-to-1 decision, the Fourth Circuit panel (Niemeyer and Agee, with Gregory dissenting) affirmed the admission of the informants’ statements through the detectives.