Md. appellate court rejects Catherine Hoggle appeal to have murder charges dismissed

Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals has rejected Catherine Hoggle’s argument that prosecutors have run out of time to try her for murder after the September 2014 disappearance of her two young children.

Hoggle was the last person to see her children, 3-year-old Sarah and 2-year-old Jacob, alive. She was initially charged in September 2014 with three misdemeanors and then indicted in September 2017 on murder charges.

At issue was whether Montgomery County prosecutors had run out of time to try Hoggle after she was repeatedly found incompetent to stand trial.

“I don’t think anybody could have ever imagined when this thing first happened that we would be here this many years later,” said Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy in reaction to the Court of Special Appeals ruling.

Hoggle was first found incompetent in January 2015. On the fifth anniversary of that finding, Hoggle’s defense attorney David Felsen had filed a motion saying Maryland law dictated felony charges be dropped against a defendant who has been determined to be incompetent to stand trial for five years.

But in February 2020, Montgomery County Circuit and County Administrative Judge Robert Greenberg sided with prosecutors that the five-year clock began when Hoggle was indicted on the felony murder charges, and so the deadline to dismiss wouldn’t come until 2022.

“The defense argued that there was a shorter period of time that remained in order for the state to do it. We felt the timeframe was longer. And that was the issue that went before Judge Greenberg,” McCarthy said.

And in an opinion published Wednesday, the three-judge panel of judges Andrea Leahy, Christopher Kehoe and Kevin Arthur disagreed with Felsen’s argument that the five-year-deadline began when Hoggle was first found incompetent in District Court.

”It is not at all obvious why the five-year period for dismissing the murder charges should start nearly three years before the State even filed those charges,” the intermediate appellate court panel wrote in opinion.

Hoggle’s Circuit Court trial has been on pause, pending the outcome of this appeal.

Now prosecutors have until December 2022 to bring the case to trial.

“If that date comes and goes and she’s not restored to competency, the charges have to be dismissed as a matter of law. Now, they can be resurrected again if that mental status changes; it’s not ‘forevermore.’ But she would no longer be committed for these charges,” McCarthy said.

Hoggle, who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, has been receiving treatment at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital, Maryland’s state psychiatric hospital.

The second prong of her defense attorney’s argument was that holding her indefinitely with no chance of trial is unconstitutional. The panel wrote that, although Hoggle is not yet entitled to a dismissal, “her continued commitment is still in question.”

In February 2020, for the first time since her arrest, the doctor treating Hoggle “opined that there was no longer any substantial likelihood that Hoggle will become competent in the foreseeable future.”

With this ruling, Hoggle’s case in Circuit Court will resume: “The court has not yet determined whether Hoggle is restorable. When the court considers these issues, it should not ignore the reality that the Department has been working toward the goal of making Hoggle competent to stand trial almost continuously since January 10, 2015.”

“We are considering a further appeal” to Maryland’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, Felsen told WTOP. “We are concerned that the court may have laid a blueprint for prosecutors to avoid the requirements of a statute and Supreme Court rulings.” He added that he and his team were “doing further analysis.”

WTOP’s Megan Cloherty contributed to this report.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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