Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Evans v. State (Ct. of Appeals)

Filed December 19, 2006—Opinion by Judge Alan Wilner, joined as to Nos. 107 and 124 by Judge Clayton Greene, dissent by Chief Judge Robert Bell, in which Judge Greene joined as to Parts C and D only.

The Court considered four appeals – Nos. 107, 122, 123, and 124 – which it consolidated. In Nos. 107 and 124, two substantive issues were raised: (1) Whether Evans was entitled to a new sentencing hearing because his attorneys at the 1992 re-sentencing hearing failed to investigate and present mitigating evidence relating to his background, thereby rendering their service, under principles enunciated in Wiggins v. Smith and Rompilla v. Beard, constitutionally deficient and prejudicial; and (2) Whether, under Miller-El v. Dretke, he was entitled to a new trial as to guilt or innocence because the State, in selecting a jury at the 1984 trial, exercised peremptory strikes in a racially discriminatory manner.

The issue in No. 123 was whether the Circuit Court for Baltimore County abused its discretion in denying, without affording discovery, Evans's third motion to reopen the 1995 post conviction proceeding in order to present the complaint that "selective prosecution by the Baltimore County State's Attorney's Office and systemic statewide racial and geographic discrimination rendered his sentence unconstitutional."

Appeal No. 122 arose from an action for injunctive relief filed in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. Maryland Code, §3-905 of the Correctional Services Article requires that the manner of executing a sentence of death be by lethal injection. The Division of Correction (DOC) has adopted a comprehensive set of execution protocols, including a detailed description of the manner in which the lethal drugs are to be administered. Joined by three co-plaintiffs – the NAACP, the ACLU, and Maryland Citizens Against State Executions (CASE) – Evans contended that those aspects of the execution protocol were (1) inconsistent with the statutory requirements, and (2) in the nature of a regulation that was promulgated without compliance with the State Administrative Procedure Act. The appeal was from the Circuit Court's denial of a temporary injunction that would have restrained DOC from using its protocol.

The majority affirmed the Circuit Court on Appeal Nos. 107, 123, and 124, but found merit in the second aspect of Evans's complaint in No. 122, holding that Evans was not entitled to a new sentencing proceeding or to a new trial, but that the part of the DOC protocol that directs the manner of administering the lethal injection is ineffective until either (1) it is adopted as a regulation in accordance with the Administrative Procedure Act, or (2) the Legislature exempts it from the requirements of that Act.

Thus the majority held that those aspects of the EOM that direct the manner of executing the death sentence – the Lethal Injection Checklist – constitute regulations under SG §10-101(g) and, because they were not adopted in conformance with the requirements of the APA, are ineffective and may not be used until such time as they are properly adopted. The majority reversed the ruling of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, remanding so that a final injunction could issue.

In dissent, Chief Judge Robert Bell did not disagree with the majority’s resolution of the "regulation" issue, but took strong exception to the majority's other holdings. In Part C, Judge Bell wrote that the merits of the selective prosecution claim were not yet on the table; but that Evans had satisfied the threshold inquiry into whether discovery on that issue was warranted. In Part D, Judge Bell agreed with the majority’s disposition of the "regulation" issue, but further concluded that the DOC procedure does not comport with, and is in fact violative of the statute. Judge Greene joined in Parts C and D only of the dissent.

The full opinion is available in WordPerfect and PDF.

Web Commentary: Crablaw, Sentencing Law & Policy, Ohio Death Penalty Information, Underdog Blog, Capital Defense Weekly, Lethal Injection, Maryland Moment, Baltimore Crime, Crime and Consequences, Andrew Cohen in the Washington Post.

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