When you or a loved one is facing criminal charges, there are many vitally important choices to make. Do you take your chances and go to trial? Do you plead guilty? Do you make some other sort of plea, such as an Alford plea? In one recent case before the Maryland Court of Appeals, the high court concluded that a man’s Alford plea functioned similarly to a guilty plea and prevented him from requesting DNA testing on newly discovered evidence.
Trials and court hearings, in some ways, can be like sporting competitions. Both litigation and sports have their own sets of rules. Some of these rules may seem excessively technical and unnecessary, but they are the rules, and you overlook them at your peril. For example, the rules of civil cases say that generally, if you want the judge to order a particular outcome, you must expressly ask for it in your court pleading documents (meaning your complaint if you are the petitioner or your answer or counter-complaint if you are the respondent.) In the case of one Maryland husband, his failure to follow this rule cost him the opportunity to obtain his part of the marital portion of his wife’s retirement benefits, according to Court of Special Appeals decision.
Anyone who’s watched enough episodes of the courtroom procedural shows on television has inevitably seen it at some point: the episode in which the prosecution’s star expert witness is, at some point, exposed as having lied on the witness stand. This situation of expert witnesses lying on the stand does occur in real life, and, when it does, it is important to understand what that means for a criminal case in Maryland. The state’s Court of Appeals recently ruled that, when a defendant discovers after a trial’s end that one of the state’s experts lied about his credentials, the trial court must analyze what the jury would have done had they known that the expert lied, rather than simply analyze what the jury would have done if they’d never heard the falsehoods.
Criminal cases involve a great deal of knowledge: knowledge of the facts of the case, of the relevant laws, and of trial strategy. In some cases, making agreements with the prosecution and concessions in court can be beneficial to the overall advancement of your interests. In other cases, though, such choices can harm you if you want to contest those issues at a later point. A woman convicted of burglary found the Court of Special Appeals unwilling to hear her sufficiency-of-the-evidence arguments on appeal because the actions she’d taken in the trial court created a waiver of her right to advance this argument.
A man who was convicted of a drug crime took his case all the way to Maryland’s highest court to seek a reversal of his conviction. In this man’s case, the problem with the state’s case was that the prosecution lacked clear proof that the marijuana-odor evidence that was at the heart of its case was obtained through a legal police search. In cases in which the evidence is unclear regarding whether a police search was legal or an illegal Fourth Amendment violation, the court must resolve that uncertainty in favor of the accused person.
When you are facing a criminal trial, the U.S. and Maryland constitutions give you certain clear rights. One of these is the right to be present at your trial. When a court violates your rights, the law may give you certain options as a result of this constitutional violation. In the case of one man arrested in Montgomery County, a judge’s decision to declare a mistrial on a drug charge while the man was involuntarily away from court due to a medical emergency resulted in jeopardy attaching. This meant that the man’s constitutional protection against double jeopardy prevented him from facing another trial on that charge, according to a recent Maryland Court of Appeals ruling.
Maryland’s highest court recently threw out the drug and gun possession conviction of a man, due to the lack of reasonable suspicion on the part of the officers who searched him. The Fourth Amendment requires that law enforcement officers have a reasonable degree of suspicion before they can search your person. Simply being out late at night in a high crime area and responding to a police stop by behaving nervously and awkwardly are not, by themselves, sufficient to give officers the required level of suspicion needed to frisk occupants of a vehicle with a broken taillight.
A Colorado man who was arrested after appearing in Maryland as a material witness in another man’s murder trial was unable to reverse his conviction and life sentence through the appeals process. The man lost his appeal because, even though he possibly had a valid claim that his arrest violated a state statute, he failed to raise the issue of that violation during his trial. By waiting until his appeal to bring up the violation, the man was too late, according to a recent opinion by the Court of Special Appeals. The outcome presents a clear illustration of the importance of identifying all issues in your case and presenting them in the timeframe required by the law in order to avoid the problem of waiver.
Both the U.S. Constitution and Maryland law prohibit a person from facing double jeopardy, or being tried for the same crime twice. As a part of this protection, if you go to trial, and the trial judge declares a mistrial over your properly invoked objection, you cannot be tried again unless a “manifest necessity” existed for granting that mistrial. In a recent murder case, the Court of Special Appeals decided to uphold a trial judge’s decision finding the existence of such a necessity, meaning that the state was, in this situation, allowed to re-try the man for murder after his previous trial ended in a mistrial.
Regardless of the number or the severity of the crimes charged by the state, the law imposes certain protections against improper overcharging by prosecutors and over-sentencing by courts. In one recent case decided by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, a man convicted of sexually abusing a girl across a four-year period could be charged under the Maryland statute that makes carrying on a continuing course of sexual abuse of a child a crime, but the law only allowed the state to charge him with one violation of this crime, not 10 violations, since his continuing course of abuse involved only one victim.