Articles Posted in Case law

Stingray deviceAn appeals court in Maryland recently issued a decision that many privacy advocates have extolled as a landmark ruling and a great victory for the privacy rights of citizens. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld a lower court’s ruling excluding evidence in a murder case that was obtained through the warrantless use of a “Hailstorm” device, which is a type of cell phone surveillance tool. The opinion expressly stated that people have “an objectively reasonable expectation of privacy in real-time cell phone location information.”

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pills-pills-pills-3-1326912If a person is convicted of a crime after a bench trial (by a judge) or a jury trial, he or she is typically entitled to appeal the conviction and to assert any number of pertinent arguments. One of the more common arguments on appeal concerns a lack of sufficient evidence to support the conviction. Appellants also may argue that the law or statute did not apply to their facts and circumstances. The appellate court is required to apply the appropriate standard of review to determine whether an appellant’s arguments have merit and warrant a reversal of the conviction. To be sure that your rights are adequately protected during a criminal case, from the point of arrest through any appeal, you are encouraged to contact an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

In a recent Maryland case, the court conducted a bench trial to determine whether the defendant was guilty of manufacturing methamphetamine, in addition to several other drug-related charges. Here, police officers assigned to a regional Narcotics Task Force executed a search and seizure warrant for the defendant’s residence. During the search of the premises, a Maryland State Trooper spoke with the defendant and asked him whether there was methamphetamine cooking on the premises. The defendant indicated that there was a bottle in the kitchen that should not be tightened, since it could blow up and cause a fire. According to the State Trooper, the defendant described how he learned to cook the drug and the actual process.

The search revealed assorted drug cooking paraphernalia. The State presented further evidence, including a forensic examiner and chemist with the Maryland State Police, as well as an expert in the identification of methamphetamine and its production and manufacture. The court found the defendant guilty of manufacturing methamphetamine, as well as other drug-related offenses. The defendant appealed, arguing that the evidence was not sufficient to convict him of manufacturing the drug because the evidence only proved that he was cooking the substance for his own personal use, which he alleged is not a crime under the statute.

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balance-875413-mMost states have court rules and laws that govern the preparation and enforceability of a plea agreement between a criminal defendant and the State. According to case law, plea agreements play a “crucial role” in the Maryland criminal justice system. Part of the allure of a plea agreement is the level of certainty it provides to the person charged with a crime, as well as to the State. Furthermore, the use of plea agreements (rather than a trial) serves to reduce the overcrowding of courts by disposing of cases in an more efficient manner. It is important to ensure that any applicable legal rules are complied with in order to protect one’s rights at this very important stage, as well as throughout the whole criminal process.  If you have been arrested or charged with a crime, you are encouraged to contact an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

The highest court in Maryland recently addressed the legality of a criminal sentence that is below the terms of the binding plea agreement.  In this case, a grand jury indicted Tommy Garcia Bonilla back in 1989 on two counts of first-degree murder as well as other serious crimes.  Count I and Count III represented the two separate murder charges.  In 1990, Bonilla and the State entered into a binding plea agreement with the following terms.  If called upon by the State, Bonilla would testify against one of his co-defendants and would plead guilty to Counts I and III. In return, the State agreed that Bonilla would receive a sentence of life imprisonment on Count III, and a consecutive life imprisonment sentence with all but 20 years suspended on Count I.

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handcuff-449966-mUnder Maryland law, a person can be charged with the following three types of second-degree assault:  intent to frighten, attempted battery, and battery. Case law sets forth explicit criteria to determine whether a criminal defendant has committed any of these crimes. In order to convict a defendant, the State must offer supporting evidence to satisfy each of the elements. In many criminal cases, the person charged may be able to assert various defenses in order to either negate or reduce the severity of the charges. A criminal arrest is a serious matter and should be handled accordingly. An experienced criminal defense attorney would carefully review your case and prepare the best defense under the circumstances.

In a recent Maryland court of appeals case, the defendant was charged with certain criminal offenses, including second-degree assault of the “intent-to-frighten” type against the victim, Christine Johnson (“Johnson” or “victim”). The facts revealed at trial indicate that the defendant walked up to an apartment and knocked on the door. There was some yelling between the defendant and the person who answered the door. After the door was shut, there were three gunshots. The defendant then returned to the car. Other testimony suggested that he was looking for certain people in the apartment. The police found bullet holes in and above the front door, as well as in the apartment.

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supreme-court-657704-mEvery phase of a criminal case is significant. And each part of the proceeding — from arrest to sentencing — must comply with applicable state law. These laws are in place to ensure that people who are accused of a crime are afforded basic constitutional rights, among other things. Under Maryland’s enhanced sentencing statute, if a person is sentenced as a repeat violent offender, he or she could be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Like most criminal statutes, the language may be subject to interpretation depending on the circumstances of a case. If you have been arrested or charged with a crime, it is important to understand your rights as early as possible in the proceedings. An experienced criminal defense attorney would be able to help defend your case with full knowledge of the laws applicable to Maryland cases.

In a recent criminal case, the defendant was arrested for robbing a bank. He was previously convicted for armed robbery in 1991 and 1995 and for robbery in 2001. The State brought the case against the defendant as a “repeat violent offender.” The defendant was convicted of two counts of robbery and sentenced to serve two concurrent terms of life in prison without the possibility of parole. The defendant appealed, arguing (among other things) that the trial court erred in sentencing him to two life without parole sentences under the Maryland enhanced sentencing statute. He claimed that his previous robbery and armed robbery convictions are not enumerated crimes of violence under § 14-401, and thus he should not have been sentenced as a fourth-time offender.

The State argued that the defendant’s interpretation ignored the clear legislative intent behind the law. The court conducted a thorough review of the enhanced penalty statute, concluding that robbery and armed robbery have always been included in the list of violent crimes that would form the basis for imposing a more severe penalty against repeat offenders. But the defendant argued that two of his previous convictions arose under “common law” and not the statutory provisions cited by § 14-401. The court proceeded to interpret the statutory language and consulted other sources in order to discern the intent of the legislature.

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balance-875413-mA defendant in a criminal case has certain identifiable rights under Maryland state law, such as the right to a trial by jury. As we discussed in a recent blog post, a defendant may elect to waive the right to a jury trial at any time before the trial begins. But there are certain important criteria that must be met before a court may accept the defendant’s waiver (if he or she so chooses). It is important to know and thoroughly understand your rights to be able to make an informed decision throughout the process. If you have been arrested or charged with committing a crime, you are encouraged to seek the help of an experienced criminal attorney as soon as possible.

Just two months after the decision in Nalls & Melvin v. State, a consolidated case in which the court addressed the waiver of the right to a jury trial and the requirements to preserve an appeal of same, the court once again addressed the issue in another recent case. Here, defendant was convicted of six counts of theft and “theft scheme” between $1,000 and $10,000, and sentenced to ten years of incarceration with all but seven years suspended as well as five years of probation. The only issue on appeal in this case relates to the defendant’s waiver of the right to a jury trial under Rule 4-246. Specifically, the question concerns whether the trial court complied with the requirements under the Rule.

According to the transcript of the proceedings, the court asked the defendant if he freely and voluntarily decided to waive his right to a jury trial. The defendant indicated yes and the court responded in pertinent part, “I’m going to rule that you have knowingly and intelligently waived your right to a jury trial.” The defendant did not object to the court’s ruling and the trial proceeded before the court. As mentioned above, the defendant was convicted of various counts of theft and he appealed, arguing primarily that the court failed to state on the record that he voluntarily waived the right to a trial by jury. While the State acknowledged that the Rule requires strict compliance, it nonetheless argued that appellant made a voluntary waiver.

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Under Maryland law, all criminal defendants are presumed innocent if and until they are convicted. A conviction can occur via adriver-901196-m guilty plea or through a bench or jury trial. At a criminal trial, the prosecution must present evidence that proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant actually committed the crime for which he or she is charged. Of course, even if the defendant is found to be guilty at trial, that person may appeal the conviction. The outcome of a criminal case can have serious, life-altering consequences for the person charged. In such matters, it is vitally important that a defendant consult with a local criminal attorney who is fully familiar with the laws and procedures in the Maryland court system.

In a recent case, the defendant was convicted of driving with a suspended license. According to the decision, the defendant was originally charged with failure to display a license to an officer, driving on a suspended license, driving without a license, and driving on a revoked license. He asserted that, while his license expired in 1990, it was suspended prior to that time. Since the defendant waived his right to a jury trial, the court tried the case under an agreed statement of facts and convicted him of only driving on a suspended license. The driver was sentenced to two years of incarceration, with all but one month suspended. The sentence also requires the defendant to submit to one year of supervised probation. The driver appealed.

On appeal, defendant argued that he could not be convicted of driving on a suspended license because it had expired. The State countered by arguing that the expiration of a license does not negate its suspended status. Under Maryland law, a person may not drive a motor vehicle on state roads while his or her license is suspended. The defendant raised an issue of first impression in the state, whether the suspension of a valid driver’s license survives the expiration. The court reviewed the applicable law and determined that allowing the expiration to cancel the suspension in this case would undermine the Legislature’s intent. For example, the state code requires the motor vehicle department to suspend a license if the license holder does not make any necessary child support payments. The court’s interpretation supports the notion that one’s driving privileges will remain suspended until payment of child support. Continue reading →

gavel-952313-m-3In a recent consolidated case, a Maryland court considered waiver of jury trial in two unrelated cases. In one case, the defendant was accused of sexual assault and rape and was convicted after a bench trial. Before the trial, the defense attorney explained the right to jury trial to the defendant and asked the defendant if he understood he was electing not to have a jury trial. The defendant said he understood.

After his conviction, the defendant petitioned for post-conviction relief and got permission to file a belated appeal. The conviction was reversed as to third-degree sexual offense but was affirmed on other counts. The intermediate appellate court held that the trial court had adequately announced its finding of waiver, but the validity of the waiver was not preserved for appeal.

The Court of Appeals agreed to review two cases to determine what showed compliance with the rule that a trial judge must determine and announce on the record that a knowing and voluntary waiver was made by the defendant. It also reviewed whether a defense attorney’s failure to object to a trial court’s failure to determine the waiver was knowing and voluntary precluded the case from review. Continue reading →

modern-interior-1209269-mIn a recent case, an appellate court considered whether a judge could increase another judge’s sentence that was less than what was agreed upon in a plea agreement. The case arose in 1989 when a man was indicted for two first-degree murders and other major crimes. The State planned to ask for a life sentence without possibility of parole.

The defendant entered a guilty plea in exchange for a deal. He admitted that he and another man had planned to kill whatever they found in a particular apartment and steal the cocaine inside. They actually did steal cocaine and jewelry from the apartment. Each of the men shot and killed a person.

The plea deal’s terms were that the defendant would testify at the other man’s trial and enter guilty pleas as to three of the counts. In exchange, he would be sentenced to life imprisonment with all but 20 years suspended, and the State would withdraw its notice of intent to seek life without possibility of parole. The defendant’s sentencing was delayed, and he testified against the man. Continue reading →

lips-1383184-mUnder Section 1-202 of the Criminal Procedure Article, an interpreter will be appointed for a criminal defendant when the defendant can’t readily understand or communicate in English and can’t understand the charge or help with his or her defense. The court is required to appoint a spoken language interpreter when it determines a defendant doesn’t understand English well enough to participate in the proceedings or help his or her attorney, or where the defendant or a witness doesn’t speak English sufficiently to be understood by the attorneys, the court, and the jury.

In a recent case, a defendant sought review of a judgment that affirmed his conviction for sexual abuse of a minor, second-degree rape, and third-degree sexual offense. An intermediate appellate court had affirmed the lower court’s judgment. The defendant had come to the U.S. from Ghana four years before he was convicted and argued that the trial judge should have appointed an interpreter for his criminal trial. He asked the appellate court to review whether it was appropriate for the lower court to deny him an interpreter that he had requested.

The appellate court explained that the decision to appoint an interpreter is a two-part process. The first issue is whether the trial judge’s factual findings are clearly erroneous. If they aren’t, the reviewing court must then decide whether the judge abused his discretion in deciding whether or not to appoint the interpreter. Continue reading →

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