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.
One of the most important tools in a police officer’s arsenal of law enforcement techniques is what’s called a Terry stop. However, one of the law enforcement techniques that is the most susceptible to misuse is the Terry stop. In a recent drug case from southeastern Maryland, the Court of Special Appeals overturned a man’s conviction, concluding that the Terry stop in his case was improper. The case is a clear reminder of the limitations of law enforcement’s authority to engage in warrantless stop-and-frisk searches of citizens.
When you or a loved one are facing criminal charges in Maryland, there may be multiple different outcomes that could count as a successful resolution of your case. Obviously, one outcome is to be declared not guilty. Another is to have the prosecution drop the case against you. So, what do you do when the state decides to drop the charges against you in the middle of your appeal? That was the situation facing one Anne Arundel County man recently, and his case points the differences between the different ways your case can be resolved, and the relative advantages of each.
One of the things about which people on trial must concern themselves is being overcharged by the prosecution. That’s what happened to one inmate charged with multiple crimes for his part in bringing marijuana into a jail. Since the state only had proof of one agreement to move the drugs, the man could be guilty of only one conspiracy. The man’s conviction on two drug conspiracy charges led the Court of Special Appeals to vacate one of those convictions.
When the General Assembly passes new laws that affect the criminal statutes, those changes can potentially have wide-ranging effects. As one example, the legislature’s law decriminalizing small (<10 grams) quantities of marijuana has led some to question whether a law enforcement officer can still conduct a warrantless search based upon no more probable cause than the mere perception of the smell of marijuana. While the Court of Special Appeals had generally upheld searches based upon detecting the odor of marijuana, even after the law took effect, the Court of Appeals has taken up the issue, hearing oral arguments on a case contesting the convictions of three men convicted under these circumstances.
A man who was convicted of a drug crime took his case all the way to Maryland’s highest court to seek a reversal of his conviction. In this man’s case, the problem with the state’s case was that the prosecution lacked clear proof that the marijuana-odor evidence that was at the heart of its case was obtained through a legal police search. In cases in which the evidence is unclear regarding whether a police search was legal or an illegal Fourth Amendment violation, the court must resolve that uncertainty in favor of the accused person.
When you are facing a criminal trial, the U.S. and Maryland constitutions give you certain clear rights. One of these is the right to be present at your trial. When a court violates your rights, the law may give you certain options as a result of this constitutional violation. In the case of one man arrested in Montgomery County, a judge’s decision to declare a mistrial on a drug charge while the man was involuntarily away from court due to a medical emergency resulted in jeopardy attaching. This meant that the man’s constitutional protection against double jeopardy prevented him from facing another trial on that charge, according to a recent Maryland Court of Appeals ruling.
Maryland’s highest court recently threw out the drug and gun possession conviction of a man, due to the lack of reasonable suspicion on the part of the officers who searched him. The Fourth Amendment requires that law enforcement officers have a reasonable degree of suspicion before they can search your person. Simply being out late at night in a high crime area and responding to a police stop by behaving nervously and awkwardly are not, by themselves, sufficient to give officers the required level of suspicion needed to frisk occupants of a vehicle with a broken taillight.
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.
Maryland’s criminal justice system may seem complicated and intimidating to a person who has been arrested or charged with a crime. It is important to remember, however, that you may be able to assert any number of valid defenses. For instance, there exist both substantive and procedural criminal defense strategies. Substantive defenses are aimed at negating an element of the crime (e.g., lack of intent), while procedural defenses focus on the circumstances surrounding the investigation of the alleged crime. For example, law enforcement activities must follow established legal procedures and any investigation may not violate an individual’s constitutional rights. For these reasons, anyone arrested or charged with a crime is strongly encouraged to contact an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
Despite the availability of various defense strategies, keep in mind that many crimes, whether categorized as a felony or a misdemeanor, carry a statutory minimum sentence. With respect to certain drug-related offenses, critics have argued that minimum sentences often exceed the nature of the crime, result in prison overcrowding, and waste taxpayer dollars. In an effort to address these concerns and many others, Maryland Governor, Larry Hogan, recently announced recommendations by the Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council. According to the Governor’s press release, the recommendations are intended to safely reduce Maryland’s incarcerated population, control corrections spending, and reinvest in more effective, less expensive strategies to reduce recidivism and increase public safety.