Post-conviction relief after decades behind bars.

Lopez v. State

The Court of Appeals of Maryland held that the doctrine of laches[1] does not apply to post-conviction petitions arising from sentences imposed before October 1995.  Mr. Lopez, sentenced in 1986 for committing a string of crimes in Silver Spring, Maryland,[2] filed his petition for post-conviction relief in 2005, unrepresented by counsel.  In 2007, the Office of the Public Defender provided a supplement to Mr. Lopez’s petition, in which he alleged ineffective assistance of counsel.  The State, in its response, used the equitable doctrine of laches as an affirmative defense to Mr. Lopez’s petition. 

In 2008, the Circuit Court for Montgomery County denied his petition on that basis.  The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland affirmed the Circuit Court’s ruling.  The Court of Appeals of Maryland reviewed the intermediate Court’s decision on certiorari.  In support of its ruling, the Court of Appeals of Maryland looked to the legislative intent of Maryland’s General Assembly and case law for guidance. [3]  Through its analysis, the Court determined that the pre-amendment language allowing for post conviction petitions to be filed “at any time” applies to defendants sentenced before 1995. [4]   Based on this examination, the Court of Appeals found no basis for refusing to apply the 1995 limitations retroactively, but permitting the use of laches as a defense, allowing Mr. Lopez to litigate his post-conviction petition.

[1] See Lopez v. State, (2013), “This equitable doctrine of laches bars litigation of a claim when there is unreasonable delay in its assertion and the delay results in prejudice to the opposing party” (citing to Liddy v. Lamone, 398 Md. 233, 243045, 919 A.2d 1276 (2007). 

[2] In February of 1986, Mr. Lopez was convicted of attempted first-degree rape, attempted robbery with a dangerous and deadly weapon, and burglary.  In March of that same year he plead guilty to two counts of first degree rape, one count of second degree rape, three counts of burglar, and one count of assault with intent to rape.  As a result, he was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences and concurrent sentences on other charges.

[3] The Court notes that uncodified language relating to the 1995 amendment indicates the Legislature’s intent that the amendment only apply to sentences imposed after its enactment; see also State v. Williamson, 408 Md. 269, 277, 969 A.2d 300, 305 (2009) (10 year limitation period did not apply to an individual sentenced before the effective date of thesf statute – October 1, 1995).  

[4] Formerly codified as the Maryland Uniform Post-Conviction Procedure Act, presently codified at Md. Code, Criminal Procedure Article (“CP”) § 7-101 et seq.

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