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judgeAs a defendant in a criminal trial, you have the right to testify or to forego testifying. You also have the right to call the witnesses whom you want and refrain from calling witnesses whom you don’t want on the stand. All of these decisions are made based upon carefully considering the overall strategic “pluses” and “minuses” of each choice. However, what happens when someone who seems like a key witness for the defense is never called to the stand? In some situations, a judge can instruct the jury to infer that the non-testifying non-witness would have given testimony harmful to the defense had she taken the stand. The set of circumstances in which a judge can give this jury instruction is extremely narrow, though, and improperly giving such an instruction can result in a reversal of any conviction. When it comes to all of these strategic trial choices, it pays to have a knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense attorney representing you.

In one recent case from Baltimore, the judge did give that instruction, and the giving of the instruction allowed the defendant to obtain a reversal of his conviction. The man on trial was Jerry, who stood accused of several crimes related to a home break-in and robbery. There was actually very little evidence tying Jerry to the crimes. The only thing the state had was latent fingerprint evidence on pill bottles found at the home that matched fingerprints on file for Jerry.

Jerry testified in the trial. He asserted that he wasn’t involved and had not been at the scene of the crimes. Jerry asserted that, at the time that the crimes took place, he was at home with his mother. In the defense opening statement, Jerry’s attorney stated that the mother would testify and would state that Jerry was at home with her. Jerry’s mom, however, did not testify for the defense.

hypodermic needleA very famous television courtroom drama show once depicted an outraged Assistant District Attorney responding to a mass shooting with multiple deaths by prosecuting the men at the head of a gun manufacturing company for homicide. The jury returned a guilty verdict, but the trial judge threw out that verdict and declared the defendants not guilty. “It’s not about being right… it’s about doing right,” the judge explained to the prosecutor in ruling for the defense. The fictional judge’s point was this:  no matter how we may feel viscerally about a person’s conduct, justice still requires the state to follow the law, and that means that prosecutors still must meet their burden of proof, which includes establishing beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant’s conduct was the legal cause of a victim’s death. That principle was on display in a recent Court of Special Appeals ruling overturning an alleged drug dealer’s manslaughter conviction. To ensure that your rights or the rights of your loved one are fully protected at trial, make sure you have the representation of an experienced Maryland homicide defense attorney.

The alleged drug dealer was a man named Patrick. In the early morning hours of June 26, 2015, a man named Colton was found dead in his mother’s bathroom of an apparent heroin overdose. By his body, police found four empty bags with the word “Banshee” and a blue emblem on them. Police later arrested Patrick in his home. At the home, they found several dozen bags of heroin with the word “Banshee” and the same blue emblem on them. Based on that evidence, the state prosecuted Patrick for heroin distribution, reckless endangerment, and manslaughter. At the end of the trial, Patrick was convicted on all three counts.

The Court of Special Appeals threw out the manslaughter conviction. No matter how much negative influence illegal drugs and those who sell them might have, criminal convictions must rest on proof of certain things, including “legal causation.” The acts that the state proved that Patrick committed were not enough to establish that he legally caused Colton’s death. Patrick merely sold Colton four bags of heroin. He did not tell Colton how much to use; the deceased man chose the amount that he injected into his bloodstream, which he did at a later time and in another place. Patrick also did not tell Colton to use the heroin with alcohol, which the dead man did.

Courtroom witness standAll criminal trials are governed by certain sets of rules. One of these sets is the rules of evidence. The rules of evidence can be extremely helpful to your case in the hands of a knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense attorney. These rules can be used to keep out evidence that the law says is not admissible and that, if it got into your case, could potentially harm your defense.

When a trial court does allow inadmissible evidence into a defendant’s case, that error may entitle the accused to a new trial. That was the case for Donald, who was standing trial after the state indicted him on six robbery-related charges and four assault-related charges. At trial, the state produced evidence that Donald and an associate met two alleged drug dealers in a parking lot in St. Mary’s County. A physical altercation ensued, in which the drug dealers alleged that they were “jumped.”

A detective involved in the case took the witness stand and testified as to what one of the alleged drug dealers told him in describing the alleged attack. Donald’s lawyer objected to the testimony, but the judge let the police officer proceed. The trial court acquitted on the robbery charges but convicted Donald on all four assault charges. He received a sentence of 60 years with all but 40 years suspended.

textingAny criminal defendant should seek out strong defense counsel, but this need is especially true if you are facing charges likely to arouse powerful emotions and inflame passions. A skilled Maryland homicide defense attorney can help ensure that, even in the face of great community desire for retribution, the accused receives a fair trial in which his rights are fully protected and his defense is presented zealously and persuasively.

One case with such a set of emotional facts was a murder trial in which the victim was a young child. Kevin stood trial for the murder of his three-year-old nephew. The uncle was accused of beating, shaking, and slamming the boy so severely while babysitting the nephew that the child died two days later. In Kevin’s case, one of the key pieces of evidence the prosecution used was a series of text messages that Kevin exchanged with his wife, Amanda. The prosecution intended for the text messages to show what appeared to be Kevin’s progressively increasing degree of agitation and frustration with the child. The messages also included Kevin’s admission that he bit the child and that the boy “bruises easy.” After considering this and all of the other evidence, the jury returned a verdict of guilty on the charge of first-degree murder.

Kevin appealed and succeeded in getting his conviction overturned. The key to the accused man’s successful appeal was the admission into evidence of the text messages he exchanged with his wife throughout the morning and afternoon in which he was babysitting the victim. The Court of Special Appeals agreed with the accused man that the text message exchange was protected by the privilege covering marital communications.

Witness standIf you watch TV courtroom dramas, you’ve probably seen the scenario:  the intrepid defense lawyer, on cross-examination, seeks to weaken the prosecution’s case by questioning the prosecution’s star witness about his motives:  namely, whether or not the witness negotiated a favorable plea deal in exchange for his testimony. While many common situations in TV courtroom dramas are wholly fictional, this one has some basis in fact. In many situations, the defense is entitled to ask a prosecution witness about whether he has reached, expects to reach, or hopes to reach a favorable plea deal on his own pending criminal charges. These questions can be essential to show bias on the part of the witness and weaken the credibility of the prosecution’s witness. A skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney can help you with these and other criminal defense trial strategies.

In one recent case, a man convicted of murder was able to secure a new trial precisely because his attorney sought to ask these types of questions of a key prosecution witness, but the trial judge did not allow the questions.

The defendant, Rudy, was facing first-degree murder charges in connection with a shooting outside an apartment in Prince George’s County. At Rudy’s trial, the prosecution’s version of events was that Rudy killed the victim “execution-style” as a result of an argument the men had inside the apartment. Rudy’s version of the facts was that the victim pushed him, tried to hit him with a fire extinguisher, and pulled a gun on Rudy. That gun was what killed the victim, according to Rudy, since it discharged when he tried to wrestle it away from the deceased man.

gavelThere are several different ways that a defendant can be convicted of murder in Maryland. One of these is for the state to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused committed intentional murder. An alternative avenue does not require the state to prove this level of intent. It only requires that the prosecution show that the accused intended to commit another crime and that a death occurred in the process of that activity. This is called “felony murder.” There are ways to defend against a charge of felony murder, some of which involve utilizing a detailed knowledge of the law. This is yet another example of how your case can benefit from the skills of a knowledgeable Maryland homicide defense attorney.

One recent case involved a defendant, Sean, who was facing a felony murder charge. The death took place after the end of a party at the home of a man named Charles. Charles, TJ, Gary, Sean, and Chucky had been partaking of drugs and alcohol at the party. After the party ended, a dispute occurred between Chucky and Sean regarding a bag of cocaine. That dispute eventually led to a shooting outside Sean’s home.

Some time later, Sean brought Chucky to a fire station. Chucky had a gunshot wound to the temple. The volunteer fire fighters tried to save Chucky’s life, but they were not successful.

gavelChances are, there are certain U.S. Supreme Court cases with which you’re familiar, even if you don’t realize that you are. If you’ve ever viewed TV police dramas, you’ve probably heard a character give a criminal suspect various instructions like, “You have the right to remain silent…” or “You have a right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed…” These are concepts that were at the center of two rulings from that court in the 1960s. On the other hand, you may not be familiar with the phrase “voir dire” or the important of a 1986 ruling named Batson v. Kentucky, but an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney would be. This court opinion, and its impact on the jury selection process in criminal trials, continues to play an important role today.

James Batson was an African-American man standing trial for burglary in Louisville, Ky. in 1982. The rules of jury selection give each side the option to strike several potential jurors preemptively, which means for any reason at all. The prosecutor used four of his preemptive strikes to eliminate all four of the potential jurors who were African-American. The all-white jury convicted Batson. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed that conviction, ruling that allowing such a practice violated the Equal Protection Clause.

In more recent times, a man named Mark stood trial in Baltimore for several crimes related to a late-night shooting in June 2012. Mark eventually stood trial for first-degree assault and weapons charges. During the jury selection process, the prosecutor used three of their preemptory challenges to exclude African-American women under the age of 25.

courtroomEvery part of your criminal trial is important. While it might be easy to focus on the trial itself, the events that occur before that, including voir dire, can also be enormously important. Even seemingly small errors can be important enough to entitle you to a new trial and a reversal of a conviction. They key is to make sure that you work with skilled Maryland criminal defense attorneys who know all of the rules and how to utilize violations that can help your appeal.

An example of a voir dire in which an error took place, and that error had a major impact, was the case of a man named Prince. Prince was standing trial for first-degree murder. In 2014, police had arrested him in connection with a four-year-old murder of a tow truck driver in West Baltimore.

One of the first steps in any criminal trial is “voir dire,” which is the process of selecting a jury. During this process, both the state and the defense compose questions that they submit to the court and that the judge asks to the potential jurors. Voir dire is a very important part of the trial process because it gives you the opportunity to identify prospective jurors with pre-dispositions that might be harmful to your case. In that scenario, you can use a “strike,” which is a request to the court to remove that potential juror from the prospective jury pool.

gavelIf you or a loved one is facing criminal charges related to controlled substances, it is extremely important to have skilled Maryland drug crime counsel by your side representing you at every step along the process. The lawyers working for the state are experienced in the rules of law and procedure. The law provides you with certain rights and certain ways to utilize those rights to your advantage in your court case, so you need to make sure you have legal knowledge and experience on your side in the form of a skilled attorney to protect your rights.

A recent drug crime case serves as a clear example of why having quality representation matters. Leonard was charged with conspiracy to distribute methlenedioxymethamphetamine (a popular party drug better known as MDMA, “Molly,” or ecstasy). Leonard’s case went through the entire trial process. Leonard was convicted and sentenced for violating Maryland’s controlled dangerous substance laws.

Leonard filed an appeal of his conviction in a timely manner. The attorneys for the state apparently recognized that they had a problem. The basis of Leonard’s appeal, that the state lacked sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction of violating the controlled dangerous substance laws, was valid. Seeking to avoid an unfavorable outcome in the Court of Special Appeals, the state nol prossed the case in the trial court.

pillsIn your criminal case, there are several things that are of vital importance. One of these, obviously, is getting all of your items of proof admitted into evidence. You may face many hurdles in this process, including arguments from the prosecution that your proof is not admissible under the Rules of Evidence. Effectively representing you and protecting your rights in situations like these is one of many ways in which a skilled Maryland drug crime lawyer can provide essential benefits to you.

One example of a case focused upon the defendant’s evidence and the Rules of Evidence was that of Steven, who faced multiple drug charges. The case began with police surveillance of a house in Baltimore. After several weeks, the police obtained a search warrant and, during the search, found evidence of various drugs, including oxycodone, methadone, and alprazolam (a/k/a Xanax). Steven had told the police that he had some drugs in his bedroom, and the officers found Xanax, methadone, and heroin. They found the oxycodone in the kitchen.

The police claimed that Steven gave them no valid prescriptions for any of the drugs. Steven argued in court that this was false. He contended that he and his wife had valid prescriptions for Xanax, methadone, and oxycodone and that he attempted to provide them at the time of the search. The prosecution, to try to defeat Steven’s arguments that he legally possessed those drugs, asked the trial judge to exclude any document evidence regarding the prescriptions. The documents, according to the state, were not admissible because they were hearsay under evidence rules.

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