Tag Archive | Supreme Court of Maryland

The Practical and Historical Rationales for the “Supreme Court of Maryland” with “Justices”

By Michael Wein[*]

The title “Supreme Court” today seems like a natural and organic name to call the highest appellate court in a State.  An historical refresher of the name helps explain why Maryland did not originally call its High Court the “Supreme Court of Maryland.”  That is, until the recent Constitutional Amendment was approved by Maryland voters and officially adopted on December 14, 2022.  

When the United States was founded, Colonial appellate courts previously existed, tracing to at least the 1600s, well before the United States Supreme Court.  The “United States Supreme Court,” as a title, was developed as part of the United States Constitution drafted in 1787 and Congress’ 1789 Judiciary Act.  The first “Session” with Supreme Court Justices later began in 1790.  See Dallas Reports of Cases Ruled and Adjudged in the Several Courts of United States and of Pennsylvania, Vol. II, 1798, Pg. 399. 

Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and the Massachusetts colonies were the first American colonies with defined appellate courts, though functioned a bit differently than today.  For example, when Maryland was ready to join the United States proper, as the 7th Admittee to the Union, the Maryland colony changed the Court’s name, as well, from the “Provincial” Court to the “Court of Appeals of Maryland,” as part of Maryland’s 1776 Constitution.  Maryland’s original appellate courts were titled as the “Provincial” appellate court and arguably began with a law passed in 1637 or 1638, though weren’t established before about 1642, with further changes enacted in the 1660s and 1690s.  See, e.g., Wilson v. Simms, 380 Md. 206, 220 (2004) (J. Battaglia, discussing Maryland’s appellate court history, which included the then-nascent province of Maryland establishing a system of oversight with a mixture of executive and judicial functions, including appellate jurisdiction, which mirrored the Common Law system of England); see also The Maryland Court of Appeals-A Bibliography of Its History, 1987 (Compiled by Michael S. Miller, Director, Maryland State Law Library); The Court of Appeals of Maryland, A History, Bond, Carroll T. (Chief Judge of the Court), Baltimore, (1928), pg. 1. 

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Much Ado About Something: Freedom from Targeted Searches and Seizures Based on the Alleged Odor of Cannabis

By Michele D. Hall,[*]
Guest Contributor

In the last moments of the General Assembly’s 2023 legislative session, the House passed HB1071, which prohibits police from stopping or searching a person or vehicle based solely on (1) the odor of cannabis, (2) possession or suspicion of possession of cannabis, or (3) currency in proximity to cannabis without other indicia of distribution. HB1071 fundamentally changes the status quo. Currently, police routinely rely on the alleged odor of cannabis to search vehicles. The bill was a priority of the Legislative Black Caucus because marijuana laws are disproportionately enforced in communities of color.

Despite this fundamental change, Monday’s post “The Smell and the Fury: HB1071 and the Future of the Smell of Marijuana as Probable Cause” suggests that HB1071 is not significant because its substantive outcome was inevitable. The author argues that once marijuana is legal on July 1, “I think the Court would likely hold that the smell of marijuana, without more, is no longer probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains contraband or evidence of a crime. In other words, with or without HB1071, it is likely that vehicle searches based solely on the smell of marijuana are a thing of the past.”

It is not lost upon me that the quote from which the author draws the article’s title is: “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” from William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. For the author the noise around the change brought by HB1071is nothing more than sound and fury, which ultimately signifies nothing because the Supreme Court of Maryland would have reached this same result eventually.

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The Smell and the Fury: HB1071 and the Future of the Smell of Marijuana as Probable Cause

By Carrie J. Williams

Last Monday was the conclusion of the 2023 General Assembly session and it was even more chaotic than usual. Minutes before midnight, House Republicans were shouting at House Speaker Adrienne Jones and attempting to leave the chamber before the House was adjourned. I will leave it to others to comment on the state of Maryland politics. What interests me is the bill that caused the last-minute ruckus.

House Bill 1071 would enact Criminal Procedure § 1-211, which prohibits a police officer from stopping or searching a person, a car, or a boat based solely on: 1) the smell of burnt or raw marijuana; 2) possession or suspicion of possession of marijuana not exceeding the “personal use” amount; 3) currency near marijuana absent other indicia of an intent to distribute; or a combination of any of these three factors. HB 1071 also provides that an officer investigating a person solely for driving under the influence of marijuana may not search an area of the vehicle that is not readily accessible to the driver or “reasonably likely to contain evidence relevant to the condition of the driver[.]” Finally, HB 1071 contains an exclusionary provision that prohibits evidence “discovered or obtained in violation of this section, including evidence discovered or obtained with consent,” from being admitted at a trial or other proceeding.

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Is Evidence of Innocence Exculpatory Enough?

By Isabelle Raquin

The Maryland Supreme Court’s last opinion of 2022, Carver v. State, 482 Md. 469 (2022) (Hotten, J.) (Gould, J., dissenting), analyzed the cumulative impact of newly discovered evidence and held that the newly discovered evidence did not “speak to” petitioner’s innocence, and therefore, did not require granting a writ of actual innocence. However, Justice Gould’s pointed dissent illustrates the existing controversy over the application of the standard for how much newly discovered evidence is enough to warrant a new trial. Both the Majority and the Dissent agreed on the standard to apply.  Still, in practical terms, does a petitioner have to show that the State’s evidence of guilt is insufficient? That is precisely how Justice Gould reads the Majority’s application of the standard, which effectively raises the bar for petitioners and turns the “substantial possibility of a different outcome” test into the functional equivalent of a preponderance of the evidence standard.

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SCM to Hold Arguments Outside Annapolis Once Per Year

By Tia L. Holmes

On March 2, 2023, the Supreme Court of Maryland issued an Administrative Order declaring that the Court will sit temporarily outside of the City of Annapolis at least one day each term beginning with the September 2023 Term. In the Order, the Supreme Court designates secondary or post-secondary educational institutions within Maryland as their locations of choice. The Court will first sit at an institution located in the Fourth Appellate Judicial Circuit (Prince George’s County), which is represented by Justice Michele D. Hotten, and will rotate in numerical order of the circuits in the future terms. According to the Order, Justice Hotten will recommend an institution to host the oral arguments, and, upon approval of the full Court, the Court will sit at the recommended location.

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Lessons After the First 60 Days of 2023 with the Appellate and Supreme Courts of Maryland

By Carrie Williams

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:

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Rereading Washington v. State after Tyre Nichols’ Homicide

By Isabelle Raquin

A week ago, I wrote about Tyrie Washington v. State of Maryland, a decision by the Supreme Court of Maryland filed on December 19, 2022, which held that unprovoked flight in a high-crime neighborhood provides reasonable articulable suspicion to conduct a Terry stop.

Last week, like most people in the United States and abroad, I followed with horror the events leading to Tyre Nichols’ homicide.

Tyre Nichols’ flight from police was provoked by his fear and their brutality.  His homicide is a painful reminder of why innocent people fear the police, especially uniformed officers patrolling high-crime neighborhoods.  In Washington, the SCM precisely and explicitly recognized that reality while upholding that “unprovoked flight” in a high-crime neighborhood is a sufficiently compelling factor to justify a Terry stop.  After watching body camera footage of Tyre Nichols’ visceral fear of the police in the minutes before his death, I reread the SCM’s decision in Washington.  How can flight provoked by a legitimate fear of police justify the detention for criminal investigation of a citizen?

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U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether mere mention of someone’s name during predicate offense constitutes aggravated identity theft.

By Megan E. Coleman

On November 10, 2022, the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari in Dubin v. United States, No. 22-10, to decide “whether a person commits aggravated identity theft any time he mentions or otherwise recites someone else’s name while committing a predicate offense.” Oral argument is scheduled for February 27, 2023.

This issue not only divided the Fifth Circuit, but it split the federal circuits as well.

The Fifth Circuit’s per curiam opinion in United States v. Dubin, 27 F.4th 1021 (5th Cir. 2022), essentially stands for the proposition that any time a real person’s identity is used during a health care fraud, even if the identity was lawfully obtained, and the person did in fact receive health care services, that a conviction for aggravated identity theft will be automatic, and so will the two-year mandatory consecutive sentence of imprisonment.

In this case, Dubin was convicted of health care fraud for overbilling Medicaid by $101 for a psychological evaluation his company provided to a patient. For this he was sentenced to one year and a day in prison. However, the Government also charged Dubin with aggravated identify theft in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1028A and obtained a conviction on that count as well, adding a mandatory two year consecutive sentence of imprisonment to Dubin’s sentence. The Government obtained this conviction, not because Dubin stole or misrepresented anyone’s identity, but because he included his patient’s accurate identifying information on the Medicaid claim that misrepresented how and when the service was performed. The Government argued at trial that Dubin’s commitment of the health care fraud offense “obviously” meant that he was “also guilty of” aggravated identity theft because aggravated identity theft is an “automatic” additional offense whenever someone commits provider-payment healthcare fraud.

The Fifth Circuit affirmed the Section 1028A conviction holding that Dubin’s fraudulent billing scheme constituted illegal “use” of a means of identification of another person.

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Unprovoked Flight, Reasonable Articulable Suspicion, and Article 26

By Isabelle Raquin

On December 19, 2022, the Supreme Court of Maryland filed Washington v. State, No. 15, September Term, 2022, addressing whether unprovoked flight in a high-crime neighborhood adds to the reasonable articulable suspicion necessary to detain a person under the Fourth Amendment and Article 26 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights.

Washington follows in the footsteps of Illinois v. Wardlow, 528 U.S. 119 (2000), where the Supreme Court of the United States considered whether unprovoked “headlong flight” in a drug-trafficking area constitutes reasonable articulable suspicion for law enforcement to detain a person.  Wardlow determined that “headlong flight—wherever it occurs—is the consummate act of evasion: it is not necessarily indicative of wrongdoing, but it is certainly suggestive of such.”  However, a lot has happened in the past 20 years that could explain why a person’s flight from law enforcement is entirely consistent with innocence.

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