Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

Courts, as well as the legal community, are keenly aware of the challenging job that police officers have, Officers daily make split-second decisions while seeking to keep the neighborhoods they serve safe. They also, however, are charged with “respecting the dignity and Constitutional rights of persons they confront.” Sometimes, even skillful officers acting in good faith can step over the line and stop and/or search someone without a proper legal basis. When that happens and criminal charges come from that stop, knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense lawyers are here to vindicate the rights of those accused people.

This is especially true in neighborhoods that are home to high levels of crime, as a recent weapons case from Southwest Baltimore demonstrates.

Two city police officers, while on foot patrol in a high-crime area, spotted a man who they thought was acting suspiciously. Essentially, what they knew was this: the man, L.B., walked with his right arm swinging “freely” while he kept his left arm “braced against his side.” While the man was inside a convenience store, they spotted a “bulge in the front of his waistband.”

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Most people are aware that the Constitution gives criminal suspects the right to remain silent or to refuse to speak to the police. When a suspect tells the police “I’m not saying anything” or “I’m finished talking,” he’s invoking his constitutional rights. What you may not immediately realize, however, is that the protections related to this right don’t end at the police station. It also can play a role in your criminal trial, as well. This right limits what you have to say, and also restricts what the prosecution can say about your silence. Whether you’re facing questions from a police detective or are standing trial, one of the best ways to protect yourself and your rights is to have an experienced Maryland criminal defense lawyer by your side.

Your constitutional rights give you the prerogative to refuse to talk to the police or to talk for a while and then refuse to say anything more. They also allow you to refuse to testify at your trial. What’s more, though, these rights also prohibit the prosecutor from implying or flat-out telling the jury that your utilizing your right of silence is a sign of your guilt.

That right took center stage in a recent appeal of a Baltimore man’s murder conviction. The defendant, M.A., was on trial for the brutal murder of his longtime girlfriend. The suspect told Baltimore Homicide detectives that he had been out walking his dog and had returned to find the woman covered in blood. Once the police continued pressing M.A., he stated that he wasn’t “going to answer no more questions. I told you what happened, and I’m going to shut my mouth.”

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“Ex post facto” is a phrase that often gets overused… and misused. Many people may recall learning about ex post facto laws in junior high or high school civics and government classes, but may not really understand what the phrase truly means. Unskilled “jailhouse lawyers” often apply it incorrectly in appeals they file. On the other hand, a valid ex post facto argument, when in the hands of a skillful Maryland criminal defense attorney, can be a powerful constitutional claim in your criminal case.

To get an idea what a valid ex post facto situation looks like, there’s the case of E.H. from Prince George’s County. In 2011, E.H. was convicted of first-degree assault and weapons charges. He received a sentence of 25 years.

Under Section 8-507 of Maryland’s Health General Article, the inmate had, at that time, an “essentially unrestricted right” to seek commitment to the Department of Health for substance abuse treatment. In December 2017, E.H. applied for such a commitment. The judge denied the man’s request, but told him to try back in about a year. “I fully intend to grant this petition at some point,” the judge said from the bench.

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Here in Maryland, our state constitution and the U.S. constitution give everyone certain rights. As you may already know, especially if you watch all of those TV police shows, you have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer the police’s questions. What happens, though, when you’re advised of your rights in a language that is not your native one? Depending on the exact circumstances, this evidence may be critical in getting certain incriminating statements you made to the police excluded from your trial. Whether or not you speak English, make sure you have someone ready to speak for you. In other words, be sure you have the services of a skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney.

J.S. was one of those people where a language barrier was an issue. In J.S.’s criminal case, the police found drugs inside the man’s home. They charged J.S. with possession of cocaine and other related crimes.

The police transported J.S. to the station house, where a detective questioned him. During that interrogation, J.S. stated with regard to the drugs: “It’s only my problem. My wife is nothing to do with it.”

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Both the U.S. and Maryland courts include protections against law enforcement officers conducting unreasonable searches and seizures. Maryland law also has some clear guideposts about the circumstances that do (or do not) constitute a search or seizure, and they include some scenarios you might not necessarily have associated with illegal searches unless you were keenly familiar with the law.

That’s why you need a knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense attorney handling your case. Your knowledgeable attorney does have that kind of extremely in-depth knowledge of search-and-seizure law, in addition to many other essential aspects of Maryland criminal law.

The situation that led to K.C.’s trial is a good example of what we mean. While Maryland Transit Authority officers were performing a sweep looking for fare dodgers aboard a light rail train, one passenger, K.C., informed an officer that he had no ticket to ride. The officer ordered K.C. to exit the train and sit on a bench. The MTA officers began running a check on K.C. for outstanding warrants. While officers ran that warrants check, K.C. tried to escape and three officers tackled him. During that interaction, one officer discovered a gun and another subsequently searched K.C., finding multiple bags of cocaine.

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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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In your Maryland criminal trial, there may be multiple different options and tools available to you under the law to enhance your defense. Knowing what all of these are, and how to use them, is one area where the assistance of skilled Maryland criminal defense counsel can be invaluable. In a recent case involving a double-rape charge, the defendant got his conviction overturned because he advanced both state and federal speedy trial arguments, and, while the delay in his case didn’t violate the Sixth Amendment to the Federal Constitution, the Court of Special Appeals determined that it did violate the state law deadline for speedy trials.

The case involved a man accused of raping two teens in January 1982. The state indicted the man on Feb. 19, 1982. The defendant and his lawyer made their first appearance in court on April 19, 1982. The defendant made a proper motion for a speedy trial in May. The rules for a speedy trial require that the state try a defendant within 180 days of the defendant appearing in court or a lawyer representing the defendant making an entry of appearance on behalf of that defendant. In this case, both things happened on April 19, so the state’s deadline was October 15.

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In many criminal cases, especially ones involving drug charges, one of the most important issues is the collection of evidence by the police and compliance with protections guaranteed by the U.S. and Maryland Constitutions. In a recent case of a driver stopped for a non-functioning tail light, the fact that the police found illegal drugs on a passenger in the vehicle (pursuant to a valid search) did not automatically give them probable cause to search the driver’s trunk in pursuit of more drug evidence, according to the Court of Special Appeals‘ ruling.

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When you are put on trial for a criminal offense, the constitution guarantees you certain rights. One of those constitutional guarantees extended to accused people is the right to confront accusers. But what happens when a language barrier exists, and an interpreter is involved? That was the situation for a Baltimore man accused of multiple counts of sexual assault. The man’s trial produced a conviction, but the Maryland Court of Special Appeals threw out that conviction due to violations of the man’s constitutional rights. The man, who is deaf, was not allowed to examine at trial the sign-language interpreters who were involved in translating his statement to police. That ruling denied the man a fair trial and required a reversal of the conviction.

The case stemmed from the alleged sexual abuse of several female students at the Maryland School for the Deaf between 2008 and 2011. In December 2012, police questioned Clarence Taylor about the abuse. Taylor was deaf and did not speak English, nor did he understand spoken English. During Taylor’s five-hour police interview, communication was facilitated through the use of a pair of American Sign Language interpreters. Using a system known as “relay interpretation,” the police detective would ask her question, and the two interpreters would translate that information into sign language. Taylor signed his responses, and the interpreters translated them into English.

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As a general rule, under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, citizens are protected from “unreasonable searches and seizures.” In order to conduct a search, a law enforcement officer is required to obtain a court-issued warrant. As with most legal provisions, courts have interpreted the Fourth Amendment in many cases throughout our country’s history. In one such case, the U.S. Supreme Court carved out an exception to the warrant requirement known as the “automobile exception” or “Carroll doctrine,” which has been applied to criminal cases brought in Maryland courts. It is important for anyone who has been arrested or charged with a crime to make sure that the State did not violate protected constitutional rights in the process of obtaining evidence. An experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney would be able to assess your case to determine which defenses you may be entitled to assert.

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