Articles Posted in Appellate Court Rulings

Back in September, the Maryland Court of Appeals made a very important ruling. Unless you read legal publications, you probably haven’t heard about it, as it didn’t make the major newspapers. The case wasn’t a big reversal of an accused person’s major conviction. In fact, it wasn’t even a criminal matter at all, but it potentially impacts a lot of criminal defendants in this state. What it does represent is a reminder that having a knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense attorney, who’s up to date on the latest developments in the law in this state, can make an enormous difference in your criminal case.

The ruling involved a civil case where a woman sued her former landlord for harm she allegedly suffered as a result of lead paint exposure. The key issue the state’s high court addressed was the correct standard for assessing whether or not evidence from an expert witness is admissible at trial. The court changed the standard that Maryland courts must use, adopting a standard created in a 1993 U.S. Supreme Court case.

The impact of that change is already being felt by people facing criminal charges in this state. A man, K.A., received a new opportunity to potentially defeat the murder charge against him. In K.A.’s trial, the state presented an expert who used a “toolmark identification” method to determine that, in his opinion, the bullets recovered from the victim’s body matched a gun recovered from K.A.

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Being falsely accused of a sex crime can be an enormously terrifying experience, especially if the alleged victim was a child. There can be many reasons why this might happen, from a vindictive ex-spouse seeking to gain an advantage in family court to an over-zealous therapist suggesting a repressed memory that wasn’t real to a rebellious, troubled stepchild acting out against discipline. Whatever the specifics of how you got charged, the penalties are potentially severe and life-changing, so you need to be sure you have strong representation from a skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney.

There are several situations in which you can bring in evidence of your own good character into your criminal trial. For example, if you were on trial for a crime that involved fraud, lying or deception, you could put on proof that you had a reputation for truthfulness and honesty. However, what if you’re on trial for a child sex crime… can you use evidence of your past history of always conducting yourself appropriately around children? According to a recent Court of Appeals decision, yes, you can.

The defendant in that Court of Appeals case was a male teacher who allegedly sexually abused several female students. As part of his defense, the teacher sought to present testimony from other teachers and from parents of students. Those individuals’ testimony would all state that the defendant was a man who was frequently around children and who “behaves appropriately with children in his custody or care.”

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Law enforcement officers may stop your moving vehicle or approach your parked vehicle for a variety of reasons. While many of those reasons are legal and appropriate, sometimes they’re not. When you’re involved in an illegal search and seizure and that encounter ends with your arrest, then the law says that you are entitled to a trial that does not include the evidence found. A trial without that evidence will almost certainly increase your odds of an acquittal. However, to get that trial without that damaging evidence, you have to know the right way to go about seeking a ruling from the judge suppressing that evidence. To ensure that your criminal trial does not include any evidence the police obtained illegally, it pays to have a skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney handling your case.

K.W.’s criminal case was one of those situations. He and a woman were inside a pickup truck parked in a Temple Hills apartment complex parking lot. While on patrol, a police officer spotted “a lot of movement” inside K.W.’s truck, so the officer approached the truck.

Once K.W.’s passenger rolled down her window, the officer smelled an odor of alcohol, and spotted a half-empty bottle of gin and two plastic cups with what looked like liquor in them. The officer ordered K.W. out of the truck. The officer then began a search of the truck, theoretically to recover the bottle of gin. During the search, the officer found a gun that was registered to K.W.

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Your skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney can help you in a wide array of ways. One vital area is working out a plea agreement. A knowledgeable attorney has the experience to know when you should or should not agree to a plea bargain and, if yes, how to get the best possible deal. Making the right plea bargain can have multiple important benefits for an accused person. It can reduce the amount of time you have to spend in prison, or help you avoid prison entirely. It also can, if carefully constructed, limit the amount of collateral exposure a person can face, such as being placed on — or avoiding — the Sex Offender Registry.

J.R. was one accused man whose recent case is an example of a legal team that made a good deal. J.R. was facing multiple sex crime charges, and some of those were sex crimes charges against a minor. The accused man entered a guilty plea on exactly one charge. That one criminal charge was a sex crime, but it was not a sex crime against a minor. All the other charges, including the sex crimes against a minor, were dropped by the prosecution as part of the plea agreement.

After J.R. agreed to a plea deal, the state notified him that he was required to register as a “Tier II” sex offender, and remain on the Sex Offender Registry for 25 years, because the victim was a minor. J.R. appealed, taking his case all the way to Maryland’s highest court, where he won.

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Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is a British author best known for writing the stories of detective Sherlock Holmes. In the 1891 story, A Case of Identity, Holmes opined that “it has long been an axiom of mine, that the little things are infinitely the most important.” Any good Maryland criminal defense attorney will immediately recognize the wisdom in the fictional Holmes’s observation. In criminal cases, the difference between an acquittal and a conviction may rest upon the ability to spot all the little things, and then use them to the client’s maximum benefit.

For example, take the case of E.B. from Baltimore. The accused man was on trial for burglary and theft. At the end of the trial, E.B. was found guilty of fourth-degree burglary. E.B. got that conviction overturned, and “the little things” were a big reason why.

When you are put on trial for a crime in this state, there is always something that came before that trial. That “something” is either a warrantless arrest, an application for a statement of charges, a charging document or an indictment by a grand jury. Whichever occurred in your case, that’s where you can find out exactly what criminal charge the state is pursuing.

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It is that moment that is so common to TV police-and-prosecutors shows… and so very frustrating to those fictional law enforcement officers. It happens when the suspect the police are questioning looks the officers in the eyes and says, “I’m not talking without my lawyer here.”

If you are facing police questioning as a potential suspect in a criminal case, one of the most important things you, just like that fictional suspect, can do to help yourself is to bring that questioning to a temporary halt by invoking your right to counsel. Law enforcement officers are trained professionals skilled at manipulating suspects into giving them the answers they want to hear. Your knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense attorney is familiar with all of these techniques and with how to protect you in an interrogation setting.

Your right to counsel is one of the strongest rights provided to you by the Constitution. On TV, suspects often make clear requests to the effect of “I want a lawyer.” In real life, suspects may feel nervous, intimidated, overwhelmed, or scared and often speak less clearly. As a recent case demonstrates, even if you don’t speak with the precision and clarity of an Ivy League law professor (or a trained Hollywood actor,) that lack of plainness does not take away the effectiveness of an invocation of your rights.

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Many times, changes in the law are reflections of changes in society. That can be true both in case law and in statutory law. The landmark 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision that said that all same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry is an example of the former. The significant changes many states, including Maryland, have made to their statutes regarding the decriminalization of marijuana are examples of the latter.

Today, possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana is not a crime in Maryland. Some of the benefits of that are very obvious. There are, however, other collateral benefits of this change in the law that are less obvious, but no less important. This change in the legal status of marijuana may impact your criminal case, whether or not drug charges were involved, as one very important Court of Appeals ruling recently illustrated. There are many things you can take away from this new case, but one of the main ones is: if you were arrested and drug-related evidence obtained based on a warrantless search, be sure to contact an experienced Maryland drug crime attorney about your rights and your options within the legal system.

In Maryland, the federal and state constitutions contain protections that safeguard you against warrantless searches and seizures. In order for the police to conduct a search without a warrant, they generally need probable cause for the search. That means they need a reasonable suspicion that the subject of the search was involved in a crime.

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.

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