13 May 2004

Back to Maryland

A couple posts back I questioned whether the Maryland Court of Appeals has the ability to set jurisdiction for its Circuit Courts. DC wrote me to state "The Maryland COA didn't change any courts' jurisdiction. They used their rulemaking power (which most COAs have) to change the procedure by which courts can change sentences in a PCR." He also sent a link to the actual Rule change.

Now, I must admit that this just doesn't sit well with me. DC may not have meant it this way but that reads to me as stating "The courts still have jurisdiction but they're just forbidden by Rule to exercise it. However, you may still exercise it under these certain circumstances." Saying that this is only a Rule which does not set a jurisdictional limit seems to me a distinction without a difference.

In all fairness, I must point out that DC said in his e-mail that the Rule may be subject to a constitutional challenge. Personally, I was certain of this. If this happened in Virginia you could make an extremely strong case for unconstitutionality.
The judicial power of the Commonwealth shall be vested in a Supreme Court and in such other courts of original or appellate jurisdiction subordinate to the Supreme Court as the General Assembly may from time to time establish. . . [T]he General Assembly shall have the power to determine the original and appellate jurisdiction of the courts of the Commonwealth. Article IV sec 1.

The Supreme Court shall have the authority to make rules governing the course of appeals and the practice and procedures to be used in the courts of the Commonwealth, but such rules shall not be in conflict with the general law as the same shall, from time to time, be established by the General Assembly. Article IV sec. 5.
As I read those provisions of the Virginia constitution, I am pretty sure that a Rule denying the trial courts jurisdiction which the Legislature has allowed them would not be allowed.

However, we are talking about Maryland here so I went traipsing through Maryland's constitution and its laws. And I must say I conclude that under the Maryland constitutional and statutory scheme the action taken by the Court of Appeals seems to pass muster. Maryland's constitution was put in place after the late unpleasantry in 1867. However, like most State constitutions it has been the subject of tinkering. While in 1966 the Legislature seems to have reserved for itself the power to set the jurisdiction of intermediate courts of appeal, when it comes to Circuit Courts, it was determined in 1964 that they "shall have and exercise . . . all the power, authority and jurisdiction, original and appellate, which the Circuit Courts of the counties exercised on the effective date of these amendments, and the greater or lesser jurisdiction hereafter prescribed by law."

The words "prescribed by law" seem decisive to me. Looking through the statutes I find further confirmation that "[e]ach [Circuit Court] has full common-law and equity powers and jurisdiction in all civil and criminal cases within its county, and all the additional powers and jurisdiction conferred by the Constitution and by law, except where by law jurisdiction has been limited." It is the law which is relevant - and there is nothing which states that jurisdiction must specifically rise from or be limited by the law as laid out by the Legislature. In other words, jurisdictional limitations must be lawful but they need not be legislative.

Having reached this conclusion all that is required is evidence that the Rules laid out by the Court of Appeals are lawful. That is not hard to come by:
The power of the Court of Appeals to make rules and regulations to govern the practice and procedure and judicial administration in that court and in the other courts of the State shall be liberally construed. Without intending to limit the comprehensive application of the term "practice and procedure," the term includes the forms of process; writs; pleadings; motions; parties; depositions; discovery; trials; judgments; new trials; provisional and final remedies; appeals; unification of practice and procedure in actions at law and suits in equity, so as to secure one form of civil action and procedure for both; and regulation of the form and method of taking and the admissibility of evidence in all cases, including criminal cases.
IMHO, that statute makes the new Rule lawful and thus, under Maryland's scheme, constitutional.

CAVEAT: I am not licensed to practice law in Maryland and no indepth research has gone on here. I have not looked at any case law. I have not looked to see what the jurisdiction of Circuit Courts in Maryland were prior to 1964 (or last week for that matter). Don't anyone out there mistake this for a competent legal opinion.

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