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police interrogationJudges may cite to popular songs, books, or movies in their legal opinions for various reasons. Sometimes, it’s to enliven a tedious process. Sometimes, it is to rebuke a lawyer who did a poor job. Other times, though, these references are especially insightful and relevant to a specific issue. A recent Court of Special Appeals opinion opened with a quote from the popular lawyer drama Better Call Saul. The character in the quoted passage advises his listener that the time when people most need a lawyer is when “they find themselves in a little room with a detective who acts like he’s their best friend. ‘Talk to me,’ he says, ‘Help me clear this thing up. You don’t need a lawyer, only guilty people need lawyers’ and BOOM! … that’s when it all goes south.” While this passage is fiction, it does offer some very good real-life advice. The time to contact a criminal defense lawyer is NOT after you’ve waived your rights, started talking to the police, and said something that they potentially can use against you to incriminate you. The time to invoke your right to counsel and obtain a skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney is from the very beginning of law enforcement’s questioning of you.

The recent court opinion quoting that TV show episode was one that focused on the very important process of invoking your rights when faced with a police interrogation. The case involved the murder by stabbing of a man in Langley Park. The police apprehended Mynor and took him into interrogation. Several questions into the process, Mynor said, in Spanish, a sentence that the police translated as “That’s all I have to say to you. And if you accuse me of something, I better want an attorney.” Despite this statement, the interview continued. The police even acknowledged at one point that Mynor said he “wanted a lawyer,” but the interrogation kept going. Eventually, the man made potentially incriminating statements. The state took the case to trial and obtained a conviction on second-degree murder.

The accused man appealed. His argument, essentially, was that he invoked his right to remain silent and also his right to counsel, that the police improperly continued the interrogation, and that the trial court wrongfully allowed his incriminating post-invocation statements into his trial.

handgunMost people, including non-lawyers, are aware that the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. A non-lawyer, including even a very knowledgeable one, however, might not be aware of what a “Terry stop” is and what that phrase can potentially mean with regard to a warrantless search conducted by police. In many criminal cases, the difference between conviction and acquittal may be the ability to get certain important evidence excluded, which is where concepts like a Terry stop can play a very important role. This legal terminology demonstrates just how important it is to have knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense counsel on your side in order to take the law and use its protections to their fullest extent to protect your rights in your criminal case.

A recent case from Baltimore was one in which the law of searches and seizures led to the exclusion of key evidence. What would eventually become Maurice’s criminal case began with an anonymous tip phoned in to a 911 operator. The tipster said that two African-American men were selling drugs from a silver Honda Accord at a specific location in Baltimore.

Two police units responded to the scene and found two African-American men sitting in a silver Honda Accord with its engine running. The officers positioned their vehicles with one in front of the Honda and one behind it, effectively blocking it from leaving the area. The officers ordered Maurice out of the car and began to frisk him. While searching Maurice, the police found a bag of drugs tucked inside his underwear. After finding that, the police searched the car and found a handgun.

spyingSometimes, in popular media, you might run across people who criticize the operation of the American justice system. They complain about accused people who avoid punishment due to what they think are “technicalities.” Sometimes, though, those issues aren’t minor technicalities at all; they are results of critical errors by the prosecution, like charging the defendant with a crime of which the elements do not match the facts of the case as established at trial. When these things happen to you or a loved one, it is important to have a skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney on your side to protect your rights.

One recent case that originated in Washington County served as an example of the facts not fitting the crime charged. The defendant, David, was on trial facing some very serious allegations. According to the state’s case, David had installed a secret video camera in the only bathroom in his home. David then allegedly used that camera to capture his 15-year-old daughter in various states of partial and total undress.

David acknowledged the installation of the camera but asserted that his interest in conducting video surveillance of the bathroom was not a prurient one. David allegedly was concerned that another family member was doing drugs in the bathroom. Alternatively, the father allegedly believed that the daughter was “sexting” her boyfriend while she was in the bathroom. (The daughter acknowledged on the witness stand that she had, in fact, sent the boyfriend partially unclothed pictures of herself from the bathroom.)

policeGenerally, all attorneys and most laypeople are familiar with the Miranda warnings. “You have the right to remain silent… You have the right to an attorney…” and so on. On TV shows, a defendant might avoid prosecution because the police neglected to give him a proper Miranda warning. In real life, though, the issues are often less black-and-white. What if the police question you, then give you a Miranda warning, and then re-question you about the incriminating statements you made before the warning? These types of non-clear-cut situations point to the importance of making sure you have a knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense attorney on your side to make sure that your constitutional rights are fully protected in your case.

A recent case from Anne Arundel County demonstrated how the timing of a Miranda warning can make a big difference. The events leading up to the trial started with the police executing a search warrant at a residence where Aundrey lived. Aundrey was also a subject of the police investigation, but he wasn’t at the home. Officers stopped him a short time later driving on a nearby road. The police asked him several questions and eventually took him back to the home.

Back at the residence, officers placed Aundrey, his mother, and a sister on a couch and gave them all Miranda warnings. The officers continued their search of the house, finding drugs, drug paraphernalia, and a gun contained in a safe. The officers found these items because Aundrey told them he had a gun he was holding for a friend, and he also had some marijuana.

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.

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