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Seward v. State

Court of Appeals of Maryland

January 27, 2016

GEORGE CAMERON SEWARD
v.
STATE OF MARYLAND

         Argued September 29, 2015

          Certiorari to the Court of Special Appeals (Circuit Court for Baltimore County). Case No.: 03-K-84-003827. S. Ann Brobst, JUDGE.

         ARGUED BY: Booth M. Ripke (Nathans & Biddle, LLP of Baltimore, MD) on brief FOR PETITIONER.

         Brief of John Norman Huffington as Amicus Curiae in support of Petitioner., Ropes & Gray LLP, Ariel A. Martinez, Esquire

         Amicus 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, Gilbert LLP

         ARGUED BY: Mary Ann Ince, Assistant Attorney General (Brian E. Frosh, Attorney General of Maryland of Baltimore, MD) on brief FOR RESPONDENT.

         ARGUED BEFORE: Barbera, C.J., Battaglia, Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Rodowsky, Lawrence F. (Retired, Specially Assigned), Cathell, Dale R. (Retired, Specially Assigned), JJ.

          OPINION

Page 479

         [446 Md. 173] Adkins, J.

         Maryland 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.

Page 480

         FACTS AND LEGAL PROCEEDINGS

         Around 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.

         In 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.

         The 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.

          [446 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 (1986).

         Between 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 Diacont.

         In 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.

         The Court of Special Appeals denied Seward's application for leave to appeal the denial of postconviction relief.

         In 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 pertinent part:

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 ...

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