Monday, May 7, 2012

How can the Maryland court ruling on pit bulls be changed?

Ever since the Maryland Court of Appeals issued its controversial ruling declaring pit bulls inherently dangerous, we’ve heard a lot of questions from people about what they can do to help reverse or change the court’s decision. Here’s some information we obtained from a Maryland resident familiar with the legislative and judiciary process that you might find informative as you try to figure out how to respond.

The Maryland Court of Appeals is the highest court in Maryland. In order to take this decision to the next level, which would be the U.S. Supreme Court, one of the parties involved must file what’s called a Petition for Writ of Certiorari (cert petition), which is a request for the Supreme Court to hear an appeal from a lower court. The Supreme Court will decide whether to grant the cert based on their findings of how the lower court’s decision affects the parties’ federal constitutional rights.

The parties involved have a limited period of time to file a cert petition. In this case the likely person would be the defendant’s lawyer.  It doesn’t matter if the defendant herself wants to do this or not.  The lawyer is a party to the appeals court decision and can file. Supreme Court cert petitions are often well-orchestrated endeavors by many individuals or groups that have a stake in overturning the appellate court’s decision.

Alternately, a special “motion for reconsideration” can also be filed to request that the court review the facts of the case again. The motion to reconsider places before the chamber a question that has been previously decided. There is a group currently working on filing the motion for reconsideration.

Another way to change the common law is by statute, or the introduction of a bill through the legislature (Maryland General Assembly).

The Maryland legislature has the ability to change Maryland common law. This is done through the political process by lobbying your legislative representative.  Because it’s a political process you have to sell it to your representative and persuade them why it’s the wrong decision, not just for their constituents but for all Maryland residents as well as many Maryland businesses (insurance companies, dog training facilities, veterinarians, dog walkers, etc.)

If you can get your representative to introduce a bill, then the process can begin to enact new legislation that effectively nullifies this new common law. And, of course, that’s where all of us come in, by being able to participate in this process (unlike the judicial process, which cannot by changed by lobbying).

The Humane Society of the United States is making it easier for Maryland residents to contact their representatives. They have a simple how-to form on their website explaining how to contact your representatives and what you can say to them here.

For specific talking points in regards to Tracey v. Solesky the best place to start is by reading the dissenting opinion written by Justice Clayton Greene Jr., which gives a point-by-point detailing of the problems with the majority opinion.

No comments: