From the 2006 News Archive
Maryland School of Law Alumni Kenneth Ravenell '85 and Kathryn Graeff '86 Argue Maryland v. Blake Against Each Other before U.S. Supreme Court
As 17-year-old Leander Blake sat in his underwear in an Annpolis jail cell in the early morning hours of Oct. 26, 2002, charged with first degree murder, his request to talk to a lawyer seemed routine. It turned out to be anything but.
How that invocation of the right to counsel ended up at the heart of a case before the Supreme Court of the United States was the topic of a School of Law Alumni Association brown bag luncheon led by two Maryland alumni very familiar with the subject – Kenneth Ravenell '85 and Kathryn Grill Graeff '86 who argued the case against each other before the Court on Nov. 1, 2005.
For Ravenell, a criminal defense trial lawyer from the mid-sized Baltimore firm Schulman, Treem, Kaminkow, Gilden & Ravenell, the opportunity to argue before the nation's highest court was an unexpected, once-in-a-lifetime event. For Graeff, an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Maryland and Chief of the Criminal Appeals Division, it was her first Supreme Court argument after serving as co-counsel in three previous cases.
On Feb. 16, the two discussed the case for more than an hour, discussing its origins and legal implications, providing behind-the-scenes detail at what goes into preparing to argue before the Supreme Court, and sharing their personal impressions of the Justices.Maryland v. Blake
traces its origins to the defendant's request to see a lawyer and refusing to be questioned after being arrested, read his Miranda
warnings, and charged with first degree murder. Thirty minutes later, police officers presented Blake with a copy of the charges against him, listing "death" as a possible penalty, although as a minor, Blake was not eligible for capital punishment. A police officer present then told Blake loudly, "I bet you want to talk now, huh?"
Concerned that Blake's rights had been violated, the primary officer on the case, Detective William Johns, quickly ushered the other officer away. Half an hour later, Blake asked to speak to Johns, was reread his Miranda
warnings and gave a statement.
At trial, Ravenell argued that Blake's statement was the result of an illegal interrogation, as it occurred after Blake had requested counsel. Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Pamela North agreed, ruling that Blake have felt under interrogation.
Her decision was overturned by an intermediate appeals court in Maryland, then upheld when the Maryland Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's decision to dismiss Blake’s statement. The State appealed to the Supreme Court, basing its argument on the 1981 Supreme Court ruling in Edwards v. Arizona
that a suspect can be subjected to interrogation if "the accused himself initiates further communication," claiming Blake did so.
"We decided the best course for the State was to present a single issue to the Court – Can a violation of Edwards
be cured?" said Graeff. "Assuming a defendant's rights have been violated by an improper comment, can he ever change his mind and talk to police?"
Ravenell also saw this a key question. "If the Court does rule that you can cure an Edwards
violation, it creates possible infringements on defendants' rights. There's the potential that police will continue an interrogation and hope to cure afterward. They have nothing to lose if a defendant isn't talking."
Reflective of the divided Court, both advocates focused their arguments on a few key Justices.
"I guessed Justice Kennedy would be the swing vote. And he asked a lot of tough questions," said Ravenell, who was named Baltimore's Top Criminal Lawyer last year by Baltimore Magazine.
"O'Connor and Kennedy were the ones to focus on for us," said Graeff. "We focused our analysis on opinions those two had written and tried to tailor something palatable toward them."
Just a few days after oral arguments, the Court seemingly bogged down over the status of review for the case and dismissed it with a one-line statement: "The writ of certiorari is dismissed as improvidently granted."
Ravenell and Graeff expect the Court to again someday take up the question of whether an Edwards
violation can be cured. And though both were disappointed that the Court didn't issue a ruling in the case, Ravenell and Graeff were thrilled to have had the opportunity to spend 30 minutes arguing before the Supreme Court.
"I had to split my time with the Solicitor General and reserve the last five minutes for rebuttal. It flew by," said Graeff. "And then Ken didn't have to split his time with anybody; it seemed like he had so much time."
Ravenell even enjoyed the opportunity to engage in repartee with Justice Scalia, who he said clearly favored the State with comments like: "You're not helping defendants, you know. Sometimes, a defendant, after he talks to his relatives, might conclude 'Boy, you know, I'd better cooperate with the police and get a lesser sentence.' But you're saying that can't happen."
To which Ravenell responded: "In my 20 years of trial practice, I have never found it to be in the defendant's best interest to communicate with the police without counsel."
The brown bag luncheon was organized by Marty Schreiber II ’92 of the Alumni Association, and hosted at the firm of Whiteford, Taylor & Preston by Thurman Zollicoffer ’88.
"This is the first in a series of events that the Alumni Association is planning to provide alumni an opportunity to learn about interesting and relevant legal developments from experts in a variety of fields," said Schreiber. "We encourage everyone to participate."
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