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Campbell v. State

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

December 5, 2017


         Circuit Court for Baltimore City Case No. 24C15006785

          Beachley, Shaw Geter, Moylan, Charles E., Jr. (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.


          MOYLAN, JUDGE.

         The appellant, Mark Campbell, asks us to resolve the merits of a purely hypothetical question sitting for the moment in a procedural vacuum chamber. He would like us to decide whether the military offenses to which he pled guilty in a Court Martial proceeding would, had they been committed in Maryland, require him to register as a Tier II sex offender in Maryland. This we not only will not decide; this we may not decide. The issue the appellant would like to have resolved would assume materiality only if he had successfully reached Procedural Step Four or Procedural Step Five of this convoluted litigation. How does the appellant suggest that he has done so? By simply opting to start at Step Four, arriving there by magic carpet and blithely finessing antecedent Steps One, Two, and Three. Those antecedent procedural steps, however, must be doggedly traversed before the appellant's proposed issue can acquire necessary materiality. There is no procedural magic carpet.

         Taking The Procedural Context For Granted

         It is only in his Statement of the Case that the appellant so much as mentions the broad procedural expanses over which he has magically floated but otherwise disdained to notice. He takes the procedural context of the case for granted, at his peril. As a Senior Airman in the United States Air Force, the appellant, on August 4, 2014, entered guilty pleas to two counts of child sexual abuse pursuant to Article 120b of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. It is at that point in his travails that the Statement of the Case picks up the procedural sequelae.

Upon his release from confinement, Mr. Campbell, a Maryland resident, was ordered to register as a Tier II registrant for a period of 25 years. A Complaint for Declaratory Judgment and Request for Hearing was filed in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City on December 10, 2015. Appellee filed an Answer to Complaint for Declaratory Judgment on January 21, 2016. Mr. Campbell filed a First Amended Complaint for Declaratory Judgment on April 15, 2016, and Appellee filed its Response on May 20, 2016. On July 5, 2016, Appellee filed a Motion for Summary Judgment which was granted by the Honorable Alfred Nance on July 26, 2016. A timely appeal was noted.

(Emphasis supplied).

         Of necessity, the appellate process is tightly constrained. Appellate judges are not knights errant, scanning the horizon for issues in distress that call out for rescue or remedy. The appellate process reviews legal proceedings for reversible trial error when such error is identified by counsel. Ultimate trial error, moreover, cannot be committed by the attorneys or by the parties or by the witnesses or by the jurors. Fate itself cannot commit trial error. Ultimate error can only be committed by the judge who makes an erroneous ruling or who erroneously fails to rule when properly and timely called upon to do so. As Judge Powers pointed out for the Court in Braun v. Ford Motor Company, 32 Md.App. 545, 548, 363 A.2d 562 (1976):

We know of no principle or practice under which a judgment of a trial court may be reversed or modified on appeal except for prejudicial error committed by the trial judge. It is a misuse of language to label as error any act or failure to act by a party, an attorney, a witness, a juror, or by anyone else other than the judge. In other words, error in a trial court may be committed only by a judge, and only when he rules, or, in rare instances, fails to rule, on a question raised before him in the course of a trial, or in pre-trial or post-trial proceedings.

(Emphasis supplied). See also Medley v. State, 52 Md.App. 225, 448 A.2d 363 (1982); Howell v. State, 56 Md.App. 675, 685, 468 A.2d 688 (1983) ("The judicial machinery cannot, by definition, possibly malfunction when it has never been called upon to function.").

         The critical ruling in the present case was that made by Judge Alfred Nance in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City when he granted Summary Judgment in favor of the State. We must decide de novo whether that ruling, as a matter of law, was or was not correct. To assist the appellate court in making such a determination, Maryland Rule 8-501(c) prescribes what material must be included by the appellant in the appellate extract. In pertinent part, the rule provides:

(c) Contents. The record extract shall contain all parts of the record that are reasonably necessary for the determination of the questions presented by the appeal and any cross-appeal. It shall include the circuit court docket entries, the judgment appealed from, and such other parts of the record as ...

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