September 29, 2015
Certiorari to the Court of Special Appeals (Circuit Court for
Baltimore County). Case No.: 03-K-84-003827. S. Ann Brobst,
BY: Booth M. Ripke (Nathans & Biddle, LLP of Baltimore,
MD) on brief FOR PETITIONER.
of John Norman Huffington as Amicus Curiae in support of
Petitioner., Ropes & Gray LLP, Ariel A. Martinez, Esquire
Curiae Brief of The Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project and The
University of Baltimore Innocence Project Clinic in support
of Petitioner George Cameron Seward, Shawn Armbrust, Esquire,
Michele Nethercott, Esquire, Jonathan M. Cohen, Esquire,
BY: Mary Ann Ince, Assistant Attorney General (Brian E.
Frosh, Attorney General of Maryland of Baltimore, MD) on
brief FOR RESPONDENT.
BEFORE: Barbera, C.J., Battaglia, Greene, Adkins, McDonald,
Rodowsky, Lawrence F. (Retired, Specially Assigned), Cathell,
Dale R. (Retired, Specially Assigned), JJ.
Md. 173] Adkins, J.
Code (2001, 2008 Repl. Vol., 2015 Cum. Supp.), § 8-301
of the Criminal Procedure Article (" CP" ) allows a
person convicted of a crime to file a petition for writ of
actual innocence under certain circumstances and seek a new
trial. In Douglas v. State, we held that an order
denying such a petition is appealable because it is a final
judgment. 423 Md. 156, 170-71, 31 A.3d 250, 258-59 (2011).
Today we resolve a question left open by the decision in
Douglas : does an order granting such a
petition constitute a final judgment, such that the State can
appeal it directly? Because we conclude that the procedural
context is materially different when a court grants a
petition for writ of actual innocence, the order is not a
final judgment, and the State cannot directly appeal it.
AND LEGAL PROCEEDINGS
noon on July 26, 1984, a man knocked on Phyllis Diacont's
(" Diacont" ) door and asked to use her phone after
claiming that his car had broken down. Shortly after entering
her home, the man raped, robbed, and shot Diacont. Diacont
survived and later identified George Cameron Seward ("
Seward" ) as her attacker.
1985, before the Circuit Court for Baltimore County ("
the trial court" ), Louise Stamathis ("
Stamathis" ) testified that Seward had worked at her dog
grooming shop during the summer of the attack on Diacont.
Because she was caring for her ill husband, however,
Stamathis was unable to locate employment records and state
whether Seward was at work the week of the crime.
trial court found Seward guilty of first degree rape, first
degree sex offense, assault with intent to murder, breaking
and entering of a dwelling house, using a handgun in the
commission of a felony, and robbery with a dangerous and
deadly weapon. Diacont's testimony provided the only
substantive evidence to identify Seward as her attacker.
Seward received two consecutive life sentences plus 73 years.
The trial court merged the additional counts.
Md. 174] The Court of Special Appeals affirmed Seward's
convictions in an unreported opinion. This Court denied
Seward's petition for writ of certiorari. Seward v.
State, cert. denied, 307 Md. 406, 514 A.2d 24
1996 and 1997, Seward's postconviction attorney located
Stamathis's employment records. After reviewing the
records, Stamathis concluded it was " impossible"
that Seward could have left the dog grooming shop to attack
1997, Seward filed a petition for postconviction relief based
on ineffective assistance of counsel. He alleged that his
trial attorney failed to properly present evidence for an
alibi defense. The Circuit Court for Baltimore County ("
the postconviction court" ) denied Seward's petition
in 1999. The postconviction court concluded that Seward's
trial attorney acted reasonably in investigating Stamathis as
an alibi witness.
Court of Special Appeals denied Seward's application for
leave to appeal the denial of postconviction relief.
2009, the General Assembly enacted Maryland Code (2001, 2008
Repl. Vol., 2015 Cum. Supp.), § 8-301 of the Criminal
Procedure Article (" CP" ), which states, in
A person charged by indictment or criminal information with a
crime triable in circuit court and convicted of that crime
may, at any time, file a petition for writ of actual
innocence in the circuit court for the county in which the
conviction was imposed if the person claims that there is
newly discovered evidence that:
(1) creates a substantial or significant possibility that the
result may have been different, as that standard has been