The odds that the full Fourth Circuit will review the good faith of pre-2012 warrantless GPS tracking

By Jonathan Biran

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.

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Corralling National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius

By Alan B. Sternstein

In the U.S. Supreme Court’s Affordable Care Act case, National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, 132 S. Ct. 2566 (2012) (“NFIB”), five justices of the Court expressed their concurrence in the view, stated most broadly, that the liberty of persons limits the scope of Congressional power under the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution. Chief Justice Roberts articulated this view in a portion of his opinion for the Court, stating that, “Congress has never attempted to rely on that power to compel individuals not engaged in commerce to purchase an unwanted product,” id. at 2586, and that, “Allowing Congress to justify federal regulation by pointing to the effect of inaction on commerce would bring countless decisions an individual could potentially make within the scope of federal regulation and – under the Government’s theory – empower Congress to make those decisions for him,” id. at 2587. The justices dissenting from the opinion’s decision upholding a federal individual mandate for health insurance as a valid exercise of Congress’s power to tax, Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas and Alito, expressed a broader view, stating that, “Whatever may be the conceptual limits upon the Commerce Clause and upon the power to tax and spend, they cannot be such as will enable the Federal Government to regulate all private conduct …,” id. at 2643 (emphasis added). According to the dissenting justices, “If Congress can reach out and command even those further removed from an interstate market to participate in the market, then the Commerce Clause becomes a font of unlimited power, or in Hamilton’s words, ‘the hideous monster whose devouring jaws … spare neither sex nor age, nor high nor low, nor sacred nor profane.’” Id. at 2646 (quoting The Federalist No. 33, p. 202 (C. Rossiter ed. 1961)).

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Consolidated Cases: Establishing Commonality for Finality

By Brad McCullough

“There’s many a slip ‘twixt’ the cup and the lip” because “the opera ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings.”  Or, a case can quickly go in an unanticipated direction because there is no final appealable judgment until all claims are adjudicated – and knowing when that happens in consolidated actions can be tricky. 

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Coming Soon to the Supreme Court: Umaña v. United States?

By Jonathan Biran

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.

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Some Good News for the Blog

By Steve Klepper (Twitter: @MDAppeal)

Just a few weeks shy of the Maryland Appellate Blog’s first anniversary, we have two pieces of good news to share.

First, one of our sillier posts caught the attention of Marcia Coyle, who covers the Supreme Court for PBS NewsHour and the National Law Journal. Marcia interviewed me for a piece in today’s NLJ, which also features a new piece I wrote matching today’s justices with Marvel and DC superheroes.

Big thanks are due: to Marcia Coyle, who couldn’t have been nicer; to Mike Moline, who edited my piece for the better; to Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett, who encourages and retweets my malarkey; to my wife for putting up with me writing a post while on vacation; and, as always, to the whole Maryland Appellate Blog board for their contributions and support.

Second, we now have a blog manager, Chris Mincher. Like me, Chris graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law and worked on the Libel Show, Virginia Law Weekly, and the Journal of Law and Politics. Unlike me, Chris held leadership positions with those groups, was a law clerk (with Court of Appeals Judge Robert N. McDonald), and is a real journalist (with a résumé that includes The Washington Post and The Onion’s AV Club).

As blog manager, Chris will be responsible for keeping everyone on schedule and for continuing to work out the kinks in our editorial processes. You can look forward to fewer typos. He has already begun contributing to the blog. Chris will of course be keeping his day job as an associate at Silverman | Thompson | Slutkin | White LLC.

One Month to Go, Only Seven Cases Left! (With One Potential Blockbuster)

By Michael Wein

[EIC's Update, 8/18/2014: The Court has since decided Chesapeake Bay, Peters, and NIHC. We're still waiting on SpacesaverRaynor, Brooks, and, notably, Kulbricki.]

As a follow up on previous posts by myself and members of this Blog, the Court of Appeals, under the helm of Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbara, appears to be smoothly finishing work for the remaining cases from the 2013 Term by the self-imposed deadline of August 31, 2014. Per the handy “Pending Cases” link on the Court of Appeals’ website, discussed previously here, only seven cases from the term remain on the Court of Appeals’ docket. Read More…

Why Aren’t Briefs Actually Brief?

By Karen Federman-Henry

Fairly often, as I prepare an appellate brief, my husband will offer to write it for me. As he is a retired assistant fire chief, this always intrigues me, so I’ll ask him how he would take all the complex issues I have to address and present them to the court. His reply typically tells me the simplest (and shortest) brief would say, “I’m right and they’re wrong.”

Obviously, I have not used this technique, but it helps to keep this concept in mind when writing a brief. At the most basic level, isn’t that what each of us is trying to say in our briefs? Whether we have 35 pages or 50 pages available to us, it all really boils down to an effort to persuade the appellate court to accept and adopt the position we present on behalf of our client.

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Highlights of FBA’s “Highlights of the Supreme Court’s 2013-2014 Term”

On July 17, the Federal Bar Association hosted its second-annual panel discussion of the highlights of the Supreme Court’s most recent term. Held at the U.S. Courthouse in Baltimore, presenters included the Hon. Benson Everett Legg (Ret.), former judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland; the Hon. Joseph F. Murphy Jr. (Ret.), former judge of the Court of Appeals of Maryland; Suget Raman, the current appellate chief of the U.S. Attorney General’s Office for the District of Maryland; and Jonathan Biran, a previous appellate chief of that Office and, more notably, current contributor to this blog. (Potential bias alert: Judge Legg is this author’s former employer, and Judge Murphy and the author are currently members of the same firm.) A recap of the event, along with these distinguished commentators’ takes on the cases that most caught their attention, appears below (after the jump).

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Pizza Is the New Broccoli

By Steve Klepper (Twitter: @MDAppeal)

In the 2012 NFIB v. Sebelius challenge to Obamacare, the now-famous broccoli analogy appeared 12 times in the majority, concurring, and dissenting opinions.

Today, we were treated to a (coincidental) same-day Circuit split, with the D.C. Circuit and the Fourth Circuit reaching opposite holdings regarding the legality of subsidies under the federal healthcare exchanges. In the process, Maryland’s own Fourth Circuit Judge Andre Davis has given us a new Obamacare food analogy du jour: Read More…

July 2014 Maryland Certiorari Grants

Ta-da! A new batch of cert grants to get you through the dog days of summer. Check out this sundry lineup of cases — including one on warrantless cell phone searches incident to arrest, a topic that’s all the rage these days in criminal procedure — after the jump.

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