Bail Reform in Maryland

posted by Judge_Burke @ 16:18 PM
February 13, 2017

Maryland’s highest court voted to change the state’s bail policies for criminal defendants, writes Ovetta Wiggins and Ann E. Marimow for The Washington Post.

According to the authors, “[t]he rule change, which takes effect July 1, requires judges to impose the ‘least onerous’ conditions when setting bail for a defendant who is not considered a danger or a flight risk.” They write that this “essentially abolish[es] a system in which poor people could languish behind bars for weeks or months before trial because they could not post bond.” Vinnie Magliano, president of East Coast Bailbonds, criticized the decision saying “the court was ‘moving one million miles an hour in the wrong direction.’” However, Maryland’s Attorney General Brian Frosh (D) said the change is a “‘huge step forward’ that will lead to ‘more justice in Maryland.’” He added: “If you’re poor, you’re not going to be held in jail just because you can’t make bail.” The rules, he concluded, will “‘keep dangerous people behind bars’ and ‘let the vast majority who are not a threat out’ before trial.”



posted by Judge_Burke @ 15:48 PM
February 9, 2017

Judges often make decisions framed as what is reasonable. The judge’s background, experience as a judge and, yes, implicit bias can color the result. So thinking about constitutional reasonableness is something we all ought to do. 

Brandon L. Garrett (University of Virginia School of Law) has posted Constitutional Reasonableness on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

The concept of reasonableness pervades constitutional doctrine. The concept has long served to structure common law doctrines from negligence to criminal law, but its rise in constitutional law is more recent and diverse. This Article aims to unpack surprisingly different formulations of what the term reasonable means in constitutional doctrine, which actors it applies to, and how it is used. First, the underlying concept of reasonableness that courts adopt varies, with judges using competing objective, subjective, utility-based or custom-based standards. For some rights, courts incorporate more than one usage at the same time. Second, the objects of the reasonableness standard vary, assessed from the perspective of judges, officials, legislators, or citizens, and from the perspective of individual decision-makers or general institutional or government perspectives. Third, judges may variously apply a constitutional reasonableness standard to a right, to the assertion of defenses, waivers, or limitations on obtaining a remedy for the violation of a right, or to standards of review. The use of the common term “reasonableness” to such different purposes can blur distinctions between each of these three categories of standards. The flexibility and malleability of reasonableness may account for its ubiquity and utility. Entire constitutional standards can – and have – shifted their meaning entirely as judges shift from one concept or usage of reasonableness while appearing not to change the “reasonableness” standard or to depart from precedent. That ambiguity across multiple dimensions explains both the attraction and the danger of constitutional reasonableness. In this Article, I point the way to an alternative: regulatory constitutional reasonableness, in which reasonableness is presumptively informed by objective and empirically-informed standards of care, rather than a set of shape-shifting inquiries.


What is the Right Thing to Do?

posted by Judge_Burke @ 15:31 PM
February 8, 2017

Children can do horrific things. There are children who are out of control, and it is fair for society to hold people accountable. All of this sounds straightforward. But, sentencing children for horrific acts requires the best of judges. Insight into the law and the cognitive development of children is certainly a perquisite. Among the best blogs is Professor Douglas Berman’s Sentencing Law & Policy blog. He had this thoughtful and troubling post:  

Jody Kent Lavy, who is executive director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Children, has this notable new commentary headlined “Supreme Court’s will on juvenile offenders thwarted.” Here are excerpts:

A little more than a year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in Montgomery vs. Louisiana that Henry Montgomery — and anyone else who received mandatory life without parole for a crime committed when they were younger than 18 — was serving an unconstitutional sentence and deserved relief.

The sweeping opinion augmented three earlier decisions that had scaled back the ability to impose harsh adult penalties on youth, recognizing children’s unique characteristics made such penalties cruel and unusual. The Montgomery case made clear that the Eighth Amendment bars the imposition of life without parole on youth in virtually every instance.

But, in violation of the decision, prosecutors are seeking to re-impose life without parole in hundreds of cases, and judges are imposing the sentence anew. Hundreds of people serving these unconstitutional sentences — primarily in Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Michigan — are still awaiting their opportunities for resentencing. Henry Montgomery is among them.

I recently met Montgomery, now 70, at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, notorious as a place where most of its thousands of prisoners are destined to die. Montgomery, who is African-American, was convicted of killing a white police officer as a teenager. At the time, John F. Kennedy was president. Though his resentencing has yet to be scheduled, prosecutors say they plan to again seek life without parole.

Given last year’s ruling from the nation’s highest court, it might seem surprising that Montgomery, remorseful for the crime he committed more than five decades ago, is still languishing in prison. This is indeed outrageous, and it highlights the failings of our justice system, especially as it pertains to juveniles….

Henry Montgomery is living on borrowed time. He is a frail, soft-spoken, generous man. When it was lunchtime at the prison, I noticed that he wasn’t eating. When I asked why, he said he wasn’t sure there was enough food to go around. On the anniversary of the ruling that was supposed to bring him a chance of release, we owe it to Montgomery, as well as the thousands of others sentenced as youth to die in prison, to seek mercy on his behalf. We cannot give up until the day comes when children are never sentenced to life — and death — in prison.


So, How Much Do You Need for Reasonable Suspicion?

posted by Judge_Burke @ 15:30 PM
February 6, 2017

Officers don’t have to actually see drugs pass in an apparent hand-to-hand transaction in a high crime area to have reasonable suspicion. Reasonable suspicion isn’t a certainty. United States v. Slaughter, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 569 (W.D.Ky. Jan. 4, 2017):

The R&R labels the officers’ observation as a hand-to-hand drug transaction. Both detectives at the suppression hearing testified, however, that they did not see drugs, or anything, being exchanged, but instead observed hand movements consistent with a hand-to-hand drug transaction. (R&R 13; Hr’g Tr. 28:7-11, 37:2-5, 43:14-16). Defendant emphasizes this fact in urging that reasonable suspicion is lacking, but his argument misses the [*10] mark, as a finding of reasonable suspicion does not require certainty, and the appearance of criminal activity is enough to give rise to reasonable suspicion. See Flores, 571 F.3d at 545. Thus, the fact that the detectives did not observe what was handed to Defendant is not determinative. The detectives witnessed Scott reach into his pocket and then place his hand inside of Defendant’s car window, actions that lead the detectives to believe a drug transaction was occurring, an activity with which they are familiar through their law enforcement experience. (Hr’g Tr. 29:3-8, 37:2-5, 39:4-6, 43:14-16); see Paulette, 457 F.3d at 606 (“[T]he officers had a reasonable suspicion that [the defendant] was engaged in criminal activity based upon his hand movements consistent with drug-dealing activity, efforts to evade the police upon noticing them, and presence in a high crime area.” (citation omitted)) Therefore, the hand movements coupled with the fact that Defendant was in a high crime area would support the reasonable belief that criminal activity was occurring and thus, the officers had reasonable suspicion to seize Defendant.


Over 50 years ago the United States Supreme Court pronounced that every defendant in a criminal case has the right to counsel. At the time, there was little discussion about who was going to pay for this and insure it got implemented. Years later, when Strickland v. Washington was decided, there were critics who said that the standard of what constitutes ineffective assistance eviscerated the right to counsel; the critics claimed that surely Gideon stood for more than counsel in name only.

Fast forward to crushing public defender caseloads and there is where the criminal justice system sits. But, perhaps that may change this term. The United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear three cases:

WEAVER, KENTEL M. V. MASSACHUSETTSWhether a defendant asserting ineffective assistance that results in a structural error must, in addition to demonstrating deficient performance, show that he was prejudiced by counsel’s ineffectiveness, as held by four circuits and five state courts of last resort; or whether prejudice is presumed in such cases, as held by four other circuits and two state high courts.

McWILLIAMS, JAMES E. V. DUNN, COMM’R, AL DOC, ET AL.:  Whether, when this court held in Ake v. Oklahoma that an indigent defendant is entitled to meaningful expert assistance for the “evaluation, preparation, and presentation of the defense,” it clearly established that the expert should be independent of the prosecution. Finally, 

DAVILA, ERICK D. V. DAVIS, DIR., TX DCJ : Whether the rule established in Martinez v. Ryan and Trevino v. Thaler, that ineffective state habeas counsel can be seen as cause to overcome the procedural default of a substantial ineffective assistance of trial counsel claim, also applies to procedurally defaulted, but substantial, ineffective assistance of appellate counsel claims.


Is Sorry Enough?

posted by Judge_Burke @ 22:17 PM
January 25, 2017

I recently finished a medical malpractice case. It was well tried. But rarely do judges really know about the events that led up to the decision to sue. Sometimes patients with bad outcomes do not sue, and sometimes they do. Vanderbilt University Working Paper series includes a study: “Sorry Is Never Enough: The Effect of State Apology Laws on Medical Malpractice Liability Risk.“ The authors are Benjamin J. McMichaela, R. Lawrence Van Hornb, & W. Kip Viscusic.

Here’s how it opens:

The traditional response to limit medical malpractice costs includes liability reforms such as caps on noneconomic damages. Another reform option, which has become popular among states over the last 15 years, is enacting laws that facilitate greater communication between patients and their providers (see Ho and Liu 2011a; 2011b). Because patients report that, in addition to seeking compensation, they sue their physicians out of anger (Vincent et al. 1994), apologies from their physicians could potentially assuage this anger and prevent some marginal suits from being filed. However, physicians are often advised to avoid apologizing to patients in order to avoid providing those patients with evidence that could be used in a lawsuit (Lamb et al. 2003).

State apology laws, which states enact to address this paradox faced by physicians, are reforms to state rules of evidence and exclude from trials statements of apology, condolence, or sympathy made by healthcare providers (sometimes only physicians) to patients. In the absence of an apology law, expressions of sympathy may generate a successful medical malpractice claim. In the presence of an apology law, physicians can more freely express sympathy without those statements being admissible in future lawsuits. Reflecting the growing popularity of apologies and communication as a malpractice mitigation strategy, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) has developed the Communication and Optimal Resolution (CANDOR) process, which is based in part on facilitating apologies by physicians to patients. And many healthcare facilities across the country have developed specific apology and disclosure programs (see, e.g., Adams et al. 2014).


Another excerpt:

For physicians who do not regularly perform surgery, apology laws increase the probability of facing a lawsuit and increase the average payment made to resolve a claim. For surgeons, apology laws do not have a substantial effect on the probability of facing a claim or the average payment made to resolve a claim. Overall, the evidence suggests that apology laws do not effectively limit medical malpractice liability risk.


The article closes:

In general, apology laws increase the probability of malpractice lawsuits for non-surgeons. While these laws reduce non-suit claims brought against non-surgeons, the evidence suggests that injured patients simply substitute lawsuits for non-suit claims. Additionally, apology laws increase indemnity payments for non-surgeons and, in doing so, narrow the gap between the average payment made by surgeons and non-surgeons. Overall, the results suggest that, unless a physician routinely performs surgery, her risk of facing a lawsuit increases and the average payment she makes as part of a claim increases. Surgeons do not see similar increases, but neither do they see decreases in the probability or severity of malpractice claims. In other words, the evidence reported here suggests that apology laws do not, in general, attenuate medical malpractice liability risk.


The study is available online here.



Victims’ Rights

posted by Judge_Burke @ 15:33 PM
January 20, 2017

There has been a dramatic change during the last couple of decades in the attitude of courts toward victim rights in the United States. Understanding where the United States has come from and where it might go is important for judges in the United States. But it is equally important for Canadian judges. Marie Manikis (McGill Faculty of Law) has posted Imagining the Future of Victims’ Rights in Canada: A Comparative Perspective ((2015) 13(1) Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law 163-186) on SSRN.

Here is the abstract:

The role of victims of crime in common law jurisdictions has significantly changed over the last few decades from that of simple bystanders and witnesses for the Crown – if needed – to more present and active participants in the criminal justice process. Despite this general trend towards increased participation, victim-related policies have evolved very differently in the different common law jurisdictions. The following piece examines the evolution of victims’ rights in Canada and compares their development to those within other jurisdictions,particularly in England, Wales, and the United States. It argues that the evolution of several victims’ rights has been incremental, generally slower and more limited in Canada as compared to other common law jurisdictions, namely England and Wales and the United States. Hence, it highlights the limitations of Canadian initiatives with regards to victims’ rights and brings forward some of the different initiatives and their implementation in these other jurisdictions as possible measures to consider in shaping the future of victims’ rights in Canada.


Justice Antonin Scalia & Canadian Spies

posted by Judge_Burke @ 19:49 PM
January 17, 2017

The untold story of how Antonin Scalia’s ‘gift to Canada’ shaped our spy services

As Donald Trump mulls a Supreme Court successor to the conservative firebrand judge, Sean Fine examines how a young, decidedly evenhanded Scalia helped the Canadian government in the 1970s to get a grip on domestic spy agencies that had begun to spin out of control


Sean Fine has this article in The Toronto Globe and Mail:

It was the 1970s – a time when this country was reeling from revelations about out-of-control spy services. The RCMP had burned down a barn in Quebec to prevent a meeting between Quebec separatists and U.S. radicals, broken into journalists’ offices, infiltrated legitimate protest groups, stolen political-party membership lists. In 1977, the Pierre Trudeau government had set up the Royal Commission into Certain Activities of the RCMP, to be led by Justice David McDonald of Alberta. The commission offered Mr. Scalia a contract to write a report describing how the United States had confronted the notorious excesses of its own intelligence agencies, including the attempt a decade earlier to push civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. to take his own life by sending him a threatening letter and an audiotape of extramarital sexual activities. 

And Mr. Scalia, then in his early 40s, accepted – for the respectable, but not princely, sum of $7,500 U.S. (then worth $8,750 Canadian), based on 30 days’ work at $250 a day. The job wound up being much more onerous than he had expected: He was more than a year late delivering his report, though still in plenty of time to be useful. 

The report’s scrupulously impartial (for the most part) author was not the larger-than-life figure he would one day become: a man obsessed with his own fame, and prone to scandalizing the court with his ridicule of its liberal members. (“What really astounds,” he wrote, dissenting from the 5-to-4 ruling legalizing gay marriage two years ago, “is the hubris reflected in today’s judicial Putsch.”) Here was the dispassionate, sober jurist of unmistakable power – the one who might have been. That’s the view of one of his biographers, Bruce Allen Murphy, a law professor at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, who read the report at The Globe and Mail’s request.


Read more here.


Batson is Alive and Well in New York State

posted by Judge_Burke @ 15:49 PM
January 13, 2017

The New York Law Journal reports:

Excluding a juror based on skin tone, like race, is prohibited under the New York Constitution, the state’s highest court has ruled [log-in required] in a case hailed by civil rights groups and affinity bar associations as an important decision.

The Court of Appeals decided unanimously that the way the jury was selected for a robbery trial in Queens Supreme Court violated the protections preventing the exclusion of jurors solely based on their race, color, creed or religion, as declared by the U.S. Supreme Court in Batson v. Kentucky , 476 US 79 (1986).

The court said in its Dec. 22 ruling that it was the first time it has explicitly stated that “race” and “color” are not the same in regards to juror bias purposes, and that a person’s dark skin tone could be a basis of cognizable discrimination under New York’s constitution and civil rights statutes.

“Defendant argues that ‘contrary to the people’s position, dark skin color is a cognizable class and, indeed, must be one unless the established protections of Batson are to be eviscerated by allowing challenges based on skin color to serve as a proxy for those based on race,’” Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam wrote in People v. Bridgeforth, 207. “We agree with defendant.”

The case involved what the court found was the illegal exclusion of a dark-skinned woman who said she was born in India from the jury in the Bridgeforth case in 2012.

The court said Queens prosecutors gave the necessary race-neutral reasons for excluding four African-American jurors from the jury, but that the prosecutor could not remember why he also struck the Indian-born woman. The trial court did not pursue the matter further and improperly allowed the prosecutor to use a peremptory challenge to exclude the Indian juror.

Appealing his conviction, defendant Joseph Bridgeforth argued that the woman, because of her dark skin, was part of a constitutionally cognizable class that is protected under the equal protection clause, and that the prosecution’s striking of her was illegal under Batson.

The Court of Appeals reversed Bridgeforth’s conviction and ordered a new trial.

The Korematsu Center for Law and Equality at the Seattle University School of Law, which filed an amicus brief on behalf of 20 civil rights organizations and a group of 32 law school professors in the case, praised the decision.


Incompetent Defendants and Medication

posted by Judge_Burke @ 18:22 PM
January 12, 2017

This is not an issue that many judges confront, but when you do, it can be perplexing.  The law in your state (or province)  may differ, but understanding the issue is important.

Dorie Klein (St. Mary’s University School of Law) has posted The Costs of Delay: Incompetent Criminal Defendants, Involuntary Antipsychotic Medications, and the Question of Who Decides (University of Pennsylvania Journal of Law and Social Change, Vol. 16, 2013) on SSRN.

Here is the abstract:

Whether an incompetent pretrial detainee is entitled to a judicial hearing before he may be administered involuntary antipsychotic medication is a matter of contention. The question of the constitutionality, with regard to the Due Process clause, of involuntary medication to diminish a detainee’s dangerousness is one that arises at the intersection of two United States Supreme Court cases, Washington v. Harper and Sell v. United States.

In Harper, the Court ruled that a convicted prisoner is not entitled to a judicial hearing before he may be administered involuntary antipsychotic medications when the medications are necessary to diminish the prisoner’s dangerousness to himself or others. In Sell, the Court implied that an incompetent pretrial detainee is entitled to a judicial hearing, when the medications are necessary to render the detainee competent to stand trial. 

In either case, the decision whether to allow the government to administer involuntary antipsychotic medications should be made as quickly as possible, and for that reason, medical personnel should decide. Moreover, the Sell Court’s decision requiring a judicial hearing is ineffective in protecting those interests of detainees that the Court thought would be protected by a judicial hearing. Given the nature of antipsychotic medication, requiring a judicial hearing on the question of involuntary antipsychotic medications is unlikely to protect the detainee’s interest in a fair trial. Furthermore, the delay involved in the judicial process harms the detainee’s health and compromises the government’s interest in rendering the detainee competent to stand trial. Thus, mandating that only a judge may authorize involuntary antipsychotic medications costs both the detainee and the government, and benefits no one.