Findings: The e-Newsletter of the
Maryland State Law Library

From Maryland's First Legal Resource
---::--- Volume 5, Numbers 1 & 2, Winter/Spring 2010 ---::---

In This Issue:

Recent Changes in the Maryland Legal Publishing Landscape

By Steve Anderson

One of the Library's tasks is to provide researchers with up-to-date news regarding legal information. Therefore, there are several recent noteworthy items of potential interest to readers.

Maryland Register Now Available in PDF Format

For the last several years, HTML (web page) copies of the last six issues have been available for free on the website of the Division of State Documents. These HTML copies have lacked pagination and the proper formatting of the print version, although these versions are still useful for technical reasons. The most significant new development is that since May 7, 2010, the Division has begun posting PDF copies of each issue. These copies are essentially images of the print version, complete with correct page numbers and the "look and feel" of the print. Additionally, the Division will now be posting the most recent eight issues, instead of six, thereby providing users with additional time to review recent changes to rules. Finally, the print version of the Register will continue publication, which will benefit libraries' preservation initiatives and meet the needs of some readers. The Division's notice of these positive changes is posted here.

The MSBA Acquires MICPEL Publications

Many legal professionals in Maryland have heard that the Maryland State Bar Association (MSBA) took on the continuing legal education role that had been served by the Maryland Institute for the Continuing Professional Education of Lawyers (MICPEL). MICPEL, which ceased operation in February 2010, published a significant number of Maryland legal treatises and handbooks. Fortunately, the MSBA will continue publishing most of them, in addition to the Association's other education initiatives. (See "MSBA Creates CLE Department" in the March 2010 issue of the MSBA Bar Bulletin.) The first product of this initiative is the 2010 supplement to the popular text "Pleading Causes of Action in Maryland," which is now available to be ordered.

Internet Distribution of County Legal Materials

Chapter 654 of the 2010 Laws of Maryland permits counties to provide to their legislative delegations digital versions of their compilations of local laws. This authorization is expected to save some printing costs, and readers will continue to benefit from the internet version's ease-of-use. Significantly, however, the statute mandates that the State Law Library, the State Archives and the Department of Legislative Services receive printed versions of these laws. Because paper-based information continues to be the preferred format for the preservation of historical information, it is especially important to continue print publications for the present time.


By Mary Jo Lazun

Google Scholar now includes Legal Opinions

Starting this past November, a very large number of judicial opinions from state and Federal appellate courts became available for free worldwide. Google is the host of this new entry into the legal information arena, having added these opinions to its Google Scholar database. See and click on the “Legal opinions and journals” radio button. Google Scholar is a specialty search engine that includes scholarly secondary source material aimed primarily at academic researchers, including some law review articles available in HeinOnline.

The Maryland State Law Library has been testing Google Scholar and, although it is not a substitute for computer-assisted legal research tools like Lexis or Westlaw, found it to be a suitable choice for “free” searching in preparation for more focused research, using print sources or proprietary legal databases. Google Scholar is also an excellent way to quickly retrieve, for background information, an opinion with a known citation.

The strengths of Google Scholar for legal research are the same strengths that Google has for searching the Web. It is fast, returns good results, and is easy to use. Using the Advanced Search, it is also possible to limit searches only to Maryland appellate cases and by date, but that is about the limit of its advanced features.

Another potentially helpful feature is a “How Cited” tab—the first time a legal citator has been available for free. The quality of the citator is only as good as the quality of the citation, however. There is no human intervention to correct errors when a citation is incorrectly formatted.

The actual origin of the case law in Google Scholar remains unknown. Anurag Acharya of Google told Richard Leiter, The Law Librarian on BlogTalk Radio, that Google is licensing material from a major legal vendor but will not say which one. Google Scholar includes U.S. Supreme Court opinions since 1791, most federal courts since 1923, and state appellate courts since the 1950's. Google Scholar plans to regularly update its coverage with new opinions, but as of the time of this writing the update cycle is uncertain. The Library has found a significant lag between when cases are posted on the Maryland Judiciary’s web site and when they are included in Google Scholar but has not determined how long it takes cases to appear in Google Scholar.

The Library does not recommend citing to cases found in Google Scholar, but as a quick, initial discovery tool, particularly for reading a known opinion, it is fast and easy to use.

The Library has developed an FAQ for Google Scholar and a related primer on conducting basic case research.

Searching Online for Oyster Dredging Statutes from 19th Century Maryland

By Deborah Judy

An interesting question was posed recently on how to locate Maryland statutes online from the 1800's on dredging for oysters under sail as opposed to power.  This question was sparked by a couple of recent popular publications on skipjacks and the oyster industry.  The skipjack, which is now the only remaining workboat under sail, is Maryland’s State Boat.   

Fortunately, references to dates of key oyster legislation regarding dredging for oysters were available, making it relatively easy to search the Session Laws of Maryland online, either through Archives of Maryland Online (AOMOL) or through Hein Online at the Maryland State Law Library. (Refer to “Pixels” in the Fall 2009 issue of Findings for a summary to searching Session Laws using HeinOnline.)

The Archives of Maryland Online website hosts Maryland legislative records back to 1634.  Session laws can be searched by selecting one of the following from the menu on the left side of the screen.

  • ‘Codes, Compilations of Laws, Laws, Rules and Regulations’
  • ‘Legislative Records’
  • ‘Session Laws’

If a specific volume is known, then search ‘Codes, Compilations of Laws, Laws, Rules and Regulations’ and identify the specific volume, for instance, Supplement to the Maryland Code, Containing the Acts of the General Assembly Passed at the Session of 1865, vol. 383.  Next, enter key words in the search box, such as oyster* dredg*, and be sure that ‘this volume’ is selected from the drop-down menu.  Because the term "skipjack" was not found in the Session Law; terms describing the activity were selected instead. See results below.


Optionally, while in the same volume, select "Index" from the main page of the volume to locate the subject, similar to the print version. 

One can also choose ‘Legislative Records’ or ‘Session Laws’ from the main page of Archives of Maryland Online (AOMOL), select 1800s to scroll down and locate, for instance, Session Laws from 1865, one of the oyster dredging legislation dates given.  A search of the online index to Laws of the State of Maryland, vol. 530, 1865 produced a reference to page 337, Chapter 181.  A ‘jump to’ box allows the user to specify a page number to view.  See below for the index entry along with the beginning text to this particular act. 

If the date of legislation sought is unknown, try key word searching by topic or date range using the Search option.  Be sure to read the ‘How To Search’ page. 

  • Under ‘Search By Topic’, the terms oyster* dredg* sail* are entered and the Legislative/Laws check-box is selected.  This strategy retrieves 30 hits.  If the term sail* is dropped, the search is made broader, resulting in 572 hits with no date limitations. 
  • Under ‘Search By Date’, the terms oyster* dredg* sail* session law* are entered and date ranges 1800-1845 and 1850-1899 are checked.  This strategy retrieves 17 hits.  If the term sail* is dropped, the search is made broader, resulting in 153 hits within the dates specified. 

The frequency of legislation indicates that oyster dredging was an important issue requiring action by the Maryland General Assembly in the 19th Century.  A search of the State Law Library's online catalog produces a few more titles, including the following items, which are housed in the Special Collections Room:

  • Oyster law of Maryland as amended by the General Assembly of 1896.
  • Oyster law of the state of Maryland : passed at the regular session, 1868.
  • Oyster laws enacted by the General Assembly of Maryland at the January Sessions, 1886 and 1884. 
  • Report of the Oyster Commission of the State of Maryland, 1884. 

The Library is happy to assist customers with researching the original copies of statutes and related state agency materials, including those dating to the 19th Century.

Writing Complete Sentences: Alford, Nolo & PBJ in Maryland

By Rudolf B. Lamy

Maryland is not the only jurisdiction in the United States where a criminal defendant might find it convenient to submit to a conviction while at the same time retaining the right to the claim that “I didn’t do it.”  Both recent and historical events in Maryland, as well as the daily routine of Traffic Court, serve to remind us that there are prescribed procedures for such pleas. For example, in early January 2010, the Baltimore media was reporting that then Mayor Sheila Dixon took an “Alford Plea” before leaving office. (Baltimore Sun, January 7, 2010.) In 1973 then Vice President of the United States, and former Governor of Maryland, Spiro T. Agnew was in a Federal court pleading nolo contendere (no contest) to tax charges. Additionally, according to Fiscal Year 2009 statistics, Maryland District Courts issued 143,913 "Probation Before Judgment" sentences for traffic violations. Because of the popularity and prominence of this legal area, the following is a brief overview of these plea and sentence arrangements.

The Alford Plea

According to Black’s Law Dictionary, 9th ed., the Alford plea is defined as follows: “A guilty plea that a defendant enters as part of a plea bargain, without actually admitting guilt. This plea is not considered compelled within the language of the Fifth Amendment if the plea represents a voluntary, knowing, and intelligent choice between the available options… North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25 (1970)."

Words and Phrases has a chapter on the Alford Plea that lists three Maryland cases and states in part, “[T]here is no constitutional impediment to acceptance of such a plea if the record discloses a strong factual basis indicative to guilt.”

Nolo Contendere

Listed in Black’s Law Dictionary, 9th ed., as “No Contest,” and translated from the Latin to mean, “I do not wish to contend,” the given definition is "[a] criminal defendant's plea that, while not admitting guilt, the defendant will not dispute the charge." (In Black’s, see the entries for "no contest," "nolo contendere" and "plea.")

The Maryland Law Encyclopedia, Criminal Law § 95 et seq., describes the nolo contendere plea. This entry notes in part that, “A defendant may plead nolo contendere only with the consent of the court.” (See also Maryland Rule 4-242.)

Among the many entries about this plea in legal encyclopedias is Am Jur 2d, Criminal Law § 676 (West: 2008), which draws a distinction between “nolo” and “guilty”: “In other words, a plea of nolo contendere has the same effect as a plea of guilty with regard to the case in which it is entered, but a nolo contendere plea cannot be used against the defendant as an admission in a subsequent criminal or civil case.”

Probation Before Judgment

Probation Before Judgment, or "PBJ" for short, can be found in Black’s under "Judgment – deferred judgment," which also lists the following synonyms, “deferred adjudication; deferred-adjudication probation; deferred prosecution; probation before judgment; probation without judgment; pretrial intervention; adjudication withheld.” Black's definition is "[a] judgment placing a convicted defendant on probation, the successful completion of which will prevent entry of the underlying judgment of conviction."

There is a statute in Maryland, which covers PBJ's (Annotated Code of Maryland, Criminal Procedure, § 6-220 [previously Art. 27, § 641]). The Maryland Law Encyclopedia refers to a PBJ as “Probation without verdict.”  You can find the appropriate section in the Maryland Law Encyclopedia, Criminal Law § 295.

Additional Sources for Pleas and Sentencing

Alford pleas, nolo contendere and probations before judgment are specific and limited examples of pleas and sentences.  A much broader discussion of pleas and sentences in Maryland may be found in several different legal resources.  All of which are available to users of the State Law Library.

  • Jacob A. Stein, Trial Handbook for Maryland Lawyers, § 4:14, "Role of Plea Bargain in Sentencing"
  • Maryland Sentencing Guidelines Manual, which is available in hardcopy or in electronic format
  • The Maryland Law Encyclopedia chapter on Criminal Law has sections on “Judgment, Sentence, and Commitment” (§§ 285-295) and “Pleas” (§§ 90-103)

In addition to Maryland resources, the State Law Library provides its users with access to Federal and general legal resources on pleas and sentencing:

  • The American Law Reports series
  • American Jurisprudence, 2d
  • Corpus Juris Secundum
  • Federal Moore’s Federal Practice
  • The United States Sentencing Commission Guidelines

Research materials and assistance on pleas and sentencing in Maryland, other states or under Federal law, is available in the State Law Library, including free access to Lexis and the Internet. The Library also offers both document delivery and interlibrary loan services.

Update on "Blawgs"

By Katherine Baer

Online legal news and information is coming from a wide variety of sources these days.  One type of resource in particular seems to be standing the test of time – "blawgs", weblogs written from a legal point of view.  Blawgs come from a variety of perspectives and cover a wide range of law topics with varying levels of depth.  One key factor for the reader to consider is the reputation of the blawg's author – some writers are well-established law professors and well-known attorneys, while others might have less experience. So how do you find out about these blawgs and whether they are worthwhile? One good source is the ABA Journal Blawg Directory.  This resource categorizes them by topic, author, region (you can click on Maryland and get a list either alphabetically or by popularity) and law schools.  The authors also review every blawg before adding it to their directory; they annually publish a list of the top 100 blawgs.  Their most recent list also included a link to the blawgs’ twitter feeds (of which there are over 70 out of the 100).

Blawgs can be broken down into the following types:

  • Scholarly – written by law professors and/or judges. They can provide in-depth legal analysis as well as an opportunity to share legal research.  One of the most well known is The Volokh Conspiracy, and another is the blog by Judge Richard Posner and economist Gary Becker called The Becker-Posner Blog.
  • News – Blawgs that cover breaking news and update developments in the legal world. They include SCOTUSblog and Legal Blog Watch.
  • Entertainment – These cover news of a lighter note, personal anecdotes, as well as humor. One example is "that's what she said", a blawg that analyzes the litigation value of plots in the NBC television show “The Office”.
  • Law Firms/Lawyers – Many law firms and solo practitioners are creating blawgs. These usually deal with attorneys' specific fields of expertise, but while they are primarily designed to draw clients to their web sites, they also can provide valuable information.
  • Law Students/Law Schools – These range from blawgs looking at the law from a feminist point of view (at Ms. JD) to those rating law schools, such as Brian Leiter's Law School Reports.

For more information and a rundown of some of the best blawgs for 2009 see The Third Annual ABA Journal Blawg 100. If you want to find out about a new blawg every day, check out Inter Alia by legal technology consultant Tom Mighell.