Boundless at the Trial Level, Toothless on Appeal: Maryland’s Law on Sentencing.
A few weeks ago, our Editor-in-Chief, Steve Klepper, wrote a piece entitled “Mental Illness and Maryland’s Toothless Review of Criminal Sentences” regarding the unreported decision, Robbins v. State. In Robbins (Nazarian, J.), the Court lamented, in dicta, about the lack of meaningful appellate review of a classic “over-sentence” for a defendant who suffered from severe mental health issues. In contrast, on March 8, 2023, the Appellate Court of Maryland chose to report Robson v. State, ACM-REG-0764-2022) (Moylan, J.) a decision affirming the trial court’s sentence that was substantially above the State’s recommendation, and without any of the regrets expressed in Robbins. Robson precisely makes Mr. Klepper’s point: a sentencing judge has boundless discretion and the appellate court’s review is toothless. Robson also suggests that changes in the status quo is unlikely without legislative action or new caselaw emanating from the Supreme Court of Maryland.Read More…
Mental Illness and Maryland’s Toothless Review of Criminal Sentences
By Steve Klepper (Twitter: @MDAppeal)
Not many unreported opinions of the Appellate Court of Maryland receive coverage in the Washington Post. But Thursday’s edition included an article by Justin Jouvenal on the new unreported opinion in Alain Jean Marie Robbins v. State. I urge you to read the opinion—authored by Judge Nazarian and joined by Judges Berger and Leahy—particularly pages 26 to 29.
Reluctantly affirming the second-degree assault convictions of a woman who kicked deputies while in an acute mental health crisis, the Court wrote that in our “admittedly gratuitous appellate opinion, Ms. Robbins was grossly over-charged, over-prosecuted, and over-sentenced when what she really needed was help.” Although the sentence was “suspended save for time served,” the defendant “still has five consecutive five-year suspended sentences hanging over her head and, although currently at liberty, she stands one non-technical probation violation away from exposure to a quarter-century in prison.”
This opinion hit hard, especially when I later learned of the heartbreaking testimony by the defendant’s teenage son at sentencing.Read More…
Adnan Syed’s Convictions Reinstated for the Victims’ Right to Attend in Person
The Serial continues. On March 28, 2023, the Appellate Court of Maryland reinstated Adnan Syed’s convictions and sentence to life in prison plus 30 years, because it found that the trial court violated the victim’s right to notice of, and his right to attend, the hearing on the State’s motion to vacate, in violation of Criminal Procedure § 8-301.1(d) (Lee v. State, et al, No. 1291, September Term 2022, Opinion by Hon. Kathryn Graeff).
The Appellate Court found that, although the victim’s representative, Young Lee, did attend the vacatur hearing virtually, and had no right to be heard, he had the right to receive notice sufficient to allow him to attend in person. The Court further found that the subsequent entry of a nolle prosequi did not render this appeal moot because it was a nullity.
The Lee decision is the first time that the ACM expands the Court’s control over a nolle prosequi entered by the State in favor of a victim’s rights, and to the defendant’s detriment. The dissent (Hon. Stuart Berger), disagrees with the majority in two ways. First, Judge Berger would have held that the appeal was moot, and second, that the victim’s rights to notice and to be present were not violated.Read More…
Inferring Knowledge From Presumed Knowledge
“Knowledge” might seem to be a pretty basic concept: A person either knows something or doesn’t know something. But, of course, there are precious few truly basic concepts in the law, and even a question as to what a person knows can get tricky once all the presumptions and inferences start getting worked into it. One of these — the so-called “deliberate indifference” doctrine — split the judges in the recent Appellate Court case of Woodall v. State, but the case also shed light on a premise I hadn’t previously been aware of: that presumed knowledge of the law can also support a finding that a defendant was willfully ignorant about its consequences.Read More…
Lessons After the First 60 Days of 2023 with the Appellate and Supreme Courts of Maryland
As most people know, in November 2022, Maryland voters approved a constitutional amendment changing the names of the appellate courts. On December 14, 2022, the switch flipped—the Court of Appeals became the Supreme Court of Maryland, and the Court of Special Appeals became the Appellate Court of Maryland. Judges of the Supreme Court of Maryland became “Justices.”
Whether you welcomed this change because it reduces confusion (“wait, so the Court of Special Appeals hears everything?”) or you were fine with the old names and saw no reason to upset the apple cart, the deed is done. Supreme Court of Maryland and Appellate Court of Maryland it is. The only question at this point is one that Steve Klepper wrote about back in December: how to refer to the appellate courts in the past tense?
When Steve wrote his post, the name change was not yet official, and the courts had offered no guidance. We thought perhaps there would be an official policy statement, or a style guide expressing preferences based upon the circumstances. To my knowledge, no such policy or statement of preferences has been issued. What we have now that we didn’t have in December, however, is opinions written by the courts under the new name regime. I have done an unofficial survey of the opinions (published and unpublished) written between December 14, 2022 and February 8, 2023. Here is what I learned:Read More…
Judges Don’t See it the Same on Speed, Stopping, and Suspicion
Of counsel, McAllister, DeTar, Showalter & Walker
Reasonable suspicion under the Fourth Amendment is a treadmill issue for appellate courts, and the constant churn of opinions usually involves judges’ different attempts to articulate what exactly is, and what should be, suspicious about human behavior. Those questions are far from easy. Every judge — every person, really — may have different thresholds about when something becomes reasonably suspicious.
The task often involves adding up a bunch of small details about a police encounter, each of which may be only a little bit suspicious, and determining whether they cross that varying threshold. A good case in point is the recent Snyder v. State, App. Ct. of Md., Sept. Term 2021, No. 1127 (Feb. 3, 2023), which suggests that strategy by the State may not always be effective. There, the State sought to satisfy the Fourth Amendment by throwing a bunch of suspicion spaghetti against the wall. Peeling it off one by one, the Appellate Court majority found it wasn’t enough — but there was one sticky noodle that triggered a dissent.Read More…