badges

An old adage says that “a man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.” The adage, of course, means that it is generally never a good idea to proceed without skilled legal representation in any legal action. The need for effective counsel is never greater than in a criminal case, which is why your defense needs to include a knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense attorney working for you.

G.S. was someone who tried to defend himself, and the result of his trial was not a favorable one for him. He was on trial for a very serious matter. Allegedly, he stabbed another man with a machete during a May 2016 altercation. The state charged G.S. with attempted first-degree murder, attempted second-degree murder, first-degree assault and second-degree assault. The defendant did not hire his own attorney and was appointed a public defender. In fact, he was appointed two different public defenders at two different points. G.S., however, decided that he could do a better job than these lawyers, and asked to proceed without counsel. The judge concluded that the defendant hadn’t provided a good reason for dismissing the public defenders but let him do it anyway.

Unsurprisingly, the trial was not a success for the accused. The jury found him guilty on all counts and he was sentenced to life in prison for the attempted first-degree murder count. In other words, the result of G.S.’s trial was the least favorable one possible for him. The lawyers he fired literally could not have done worse in terms of outcomes no matter how well or poorly they performed.

When your defense involves you testifying in your trial, the prosecution is almost certainly going to do something called “impeaching” you. Unlike in politics and government, where impeaching often means seeking to remove an official from office, impeaching in this sense means offering proof that casts doubt upon the truthfulness and reliability of the person testifying. Whether or not you’re testifying in your own defense at your criminal trial, one thing you definitely need is representation from a skilled and experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney.

There are lots of ways in which the prosecution can try to impeach you as a witness in your own defense. In some circumstances, the law may allow the prosecutor to bring up past criminal convictions you have on your record. One of the rules that the law imposes, however, on this type of impeachment is that the conviction’s significance and connection to the alleged crime(s) at hand must be greater than the potential that the information will unfairly bias the jury against you, the defendant. When you hear a TV lawyer or judge talking about evidence whose “risk of unfair prejudice outweighs its probative value,” that’s what they’re talking about.

Here’s a real-life recent case that gives a good example. B.H. was a man on trial for several serious crimes. A shootout in a parking lot in Baltimore left B.H. facing charges of attempted murder, assault, reckless endangerment, drug possession and several gun crimes. Part of B.H.’s defense was to argue that he did shoot a gun that night, but that he did so in self-defense.

There are many ways that effective criminal defense counsel can help you. Obviously, there’s your criminal trial. However, even afterward, there are ways of seeking to ensure you get justice. Sometimes, you may even be able to obtain relief more than a decade after your case ended. In some situations, there are appeals. Other times, appeals aren’t an option and other legal tools are required. The key for you is retaining an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney who knows how best to utilize the system for you.

K.S. was an example of a criminal defendant in need of justice. In 2002, she pled guilty to forgery and identity theft. After that guilty plea, all of the defendant’s jail time was suspended. She made full restitution to her victims and had “no further contact with the criminal justice system.”

In 2015, K.S. was back in court. This time, she was not a defendant accused of a crime. Instead, she was seeking to have changes made to her conviction. You may be thinking at this point, what can she do 13 years after she pled guilty? The reality is that, while the options are limited, there are certain tools available, even under those circumstances.

Sometimes, even cases going on out-of-state can shed some important light on the way Maryland criminal defense law works. A recent ruling from Alaska that threw out a man’s murder conviction due to a prosecutor’s closing argument is particularly interesting for Marylanders as, among the cases the Alaska court took note of, and quoted from, was a very significant 1992 Maryland ruling whose impact continues to this day.

Making sure that the arguments made against you are only those things that the law allows is one area where skilled Maryland criminal defense counsel can help. Not only can your experienced defense attorney identify what the prosecution can (and, more importantly, cannot) get away with, your knowledgeable attorney will also know how to go about taking the proper steps keep those improper harmful arguments out of your case.

In the Alaska case, J.A. was on trial for stabbing a man to death. At closing arguments, the prosecutor went to some length to point out that, even if the jury convicted the man, the accused would still have recourse, such as asking the trial judge to set aside the verdict or appealing the conviction to the Court of Appeals (or the Supreme Court after that.) The Court of Appeals in that state threw out the conviction as a result of that argument. By “assuring the jurors that, if they made a mistake, the trial judge or an appellate court would fix it later,” the prosecutor misled the jury about the finality and importance of their decision.

One of the techniques that the state can use in prosecuting you in a criminal matter is layering multiple charges based off one single incident. That way, they hope, even if the prosecutor can’t convict you for murder, the state may still land a conviction for, say, weapons charges. One of the keys, then, to mounting the most successful defense possible in a circumstance like this is having what you need to counter as many of these myriad charges as possible. To make sure you have the most powerful and aggressive defense you can muster, be sure you have an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney standing up for you.

Here’s a real-life example of how this can work. C.M. was a man who was facing a criminal case involving multiple charges. According to the state, C.M. drove M.J. to a Baltimore apartment complex, where M.J. shot T.W. multiple times as T.W. rode his bicycle.

C.M. faced first-degree murder, second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder charges. The state also included four alleged gun crimes in the case. The matter went to a jury, and the jury found the defendant not guilty on all of the murder-related charges and on one gun charge. Presumably, the defense had enough evidence on its side to create reasonable doubt, or prosecution lacked sufficient factual evidence to warrant a guilty verdict on those four charges.

In TV courtroom dramas, the critical moment in the case – the one that dramatically turns the case to expose the guilty party and ensure justice for all – almost always happens at or near the end of the actual trial. In real life, the “key” moment in your case can happen at any point in your trial and can even happen before the trial starts. What this should tell you is that it is vitally important to have skilled Maryland criminal defense counsel on your side at every step of the process.

One of those extremely important, but sometimes overlooked, pre-trial procedures is voir dire. This is the point in the process when the judge asks the potential jurors a series of questions. The answers to these questions may help the opposing sides in determining which potential jurors should be ruled out from the jury pool.

Given how extraordinarily important jury selection can be in determining whether or not your final outcome will be “guilty” or “not guilty,” it is vital that the right questions get asked, and get asked in the right way. A failure may mean that you are stuck facing a jury that is not really impartial and unbiased.

When you are facing criminal charges in Maryland, you have several essential decisions you have to make. One of the most important of these is deciding whether your guilt or innocence will be decided by a jury or by a judge. (The former is called a jury trial and the latter is called a “bench trial.”) You have a right to a jury trial and a jury will hear your case unless you communicate a valid waiver of that right. When it comes to making this and other critical decisions, be sure to rely on the advice of a knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense attorney to help you throughout the process.

There are actually several good reasons why you might want your case heard by a judge instead of a jury. Let’s say, for example, your skilled defense attorney has crafted a potentially winning, but highly technical, defense based upon very complex scientific information or highly dense legal concepts, doctrines and rules. In either of those cases, you might prefer a bench trial where the details of your defense are less likely to be lost on a judge as opposed to a jury. Additionally, if the facts of your case are the sort of things that might inflame the passions of the jury against you (such as sex crimes or child abuse), then you might want the dispassionate perspective of a judge and not a jury who could be more likely to let their emotions get the better of them.

If you decide that you want a trial by judge, there’s a very specific procedure that must be completed in order to make that happen. Another possible advantage for you as a defendant is that if the court fails to go through those required procedures, goes forward with a bench trial and ultimately finds you guilty, then you may be able to use those procedural errors to get your conviction reversed because the court violated your rights.

Once your criminal trial is over and you’ve been found guilty of a crime or crimes, that doesn’t mean that you’re out of options. To the contrary, there are potentially many different avenues available to you to better your circumstances. Even if you have no reasonable expectation of getting a reversal of your conviction, you may still have the ability to challenge the severity of your sentence. For those who do have a reasonable hope of reversing their convictions, there are even more options. The key, of course, is getting reliable advice about the paths available to you and which one(s) offer the best chances of providing meaningful betterment for you. For that and other essential advice, look to a knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense attorney.

In addition to possibly having many options, it is important to understand that some options may require multiple steps to get the most from them. Consider the case of a man named B.E., who was facing several charges related to possession of child pornography. The accused man went to trial with his case decided by a judge. The judge acquitted the man on four charges and found him guilty on three misdemeanors.

B.E. could have simply accepted this outcome, but he wisely didn’t. In his case, the defense filed something called a “motion to reconsider” This motion, if granted, means that the trial judge will re-look at some aspect or aspects of your case and consider whether changes should be made. That motion was fruitful as, in 2014, the judge considered B.E.’s new information and granted the motion, wiping out the finding of guilt against B.E.

Immigration, and particularly the issue of undocumented individuals, is very much a “hot button” issue these days. That is even true in civil and criminal trials, where a party in the case may seek to make an issue of a witness’s immigration status in order to diminish the witness in the eyes of the jury. Sometimes, Maryland law says that you can’t bring up a witness’s immigration status as a means of attacking that witness’s credibility (which is something the law calls “impeaching a witness”). In some specific circumstances, though, you may be able to use a prosecution witness’s immigration status against her in order to make her less believable in the eyes of the jury. As always, it helps to have an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney on your side who knows all the “ins and outs” and nuances of the law, and how to use them to maximum advantage in your defense.

A recent case involving an undocumented witness provides some useful knowledge about how this process works. In the case, the state put T.K. on trial for murder. T.K. was a man who resided on the street where the shooting occurred. One the state’s key witnesses was M.L., a 15-year-old boy and a neighbor of T.K., who allegedly saw the accused shoot the victim. Another prosecution witness was M.L.’s mother, who allegedly saw T.K. running away from the scene of the shooting with a gun in his hand.

M.L. and his mother, however, were undocumented immigrants. The defense wanted to use that information to attempt to persuade the jury that the boy and his mother were not always honest and therefore not trustworthy. The trial judge didn’t allow the line of questioning and the jury convicted T.K. The Court of Special Appeals upheld that ruling on appeal.

You probably are familiar with the concept of plea bargains in criminal cases. What you may (or may not) know is that when the prosecution and defense reach a plea agreement, the judge isn’t obliged to follow the deal’s terms. So, even once you have worked out a plea deal with the prosecution, it is essential to be prepared for every possible outcome, including the judge not going along with the deal. In other words, you need skilled Maryland criminal defense counsel that can have you prepared for all possibilities.

A recent case from Baltimore County was an example of this scenario. The background to the case was a domestic dispute. H.H. had allegedly gotten into an argument with his girlfriend at her home and, after being escorted out by other men, threatened to “shoot up” the home. A few hours later, three men arrived at the residence, burst through the rear door and shot up the home. Based on these events, the state charged H.H. with 52 counts, including two attempted murder charges, several assault charges and multiple gun crimes.

H.H. pled guilty, as part of a plea deal, to one count of conspiracy to commit first-degree assault, and the state nolle prossed the other charges, meaning that it declined to prosecute those other 51 counts. The sentence to which H.H. agreed was 15 years with all but three years suspended. The judge sentenced H.H. not to 15 years with all but three years suspended but to 25 years with all but 13 suspended. In other words, the judge tacked on an extra 10 years. The man asked to withdraw his plea and receive a new trial, but the judge refused.

Contact Information