Articles Posted in Evidence

Winning an argument about the hearsay rule can be something that makes the difference between an acquittal and a conviction. A piece of hearsay evidence may have the potential to sway a jury profoundly. However, the law says that hearsay evidence is generally unreliable and can only be used in a trial under certain, specific circumstances. Putting on your strongest possible defense involved many things, including winning these kinds of arguments about whether certain pieces of evidence are admissible or inadmissible. To get that strongest possible defense, be sure you have an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney on your side.

What do we mean about hearsay and “special circumstances”? Here’s an example from Annapolis. An anonymous 911 caller reported a shooting. A second anonymous 911 call identified O.J. as being involved, identifying him by his nickname. (The caller stated that “Tooty” was involved, and O.J. was known to go by the nickname “Tutti.”)

At O.J.’s trial, the prosecution asked to enter into evidence that second 911 call. The defense objected, arguing that the call was inadmissible hearsay. The judge sided with the prosecutor and allowed the evidence in. The call was eventually played for the jury and O.J. was convicted.

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In the recently released movie Just Mercy, the audience gets to see some of the many ways in which a criminal case can be unfairly manipulated to help enhance the odds of a conviction. This can involve various means, including the inclusion of perjured testimony at trial. The wrongful Alabama conviction of the defendant in Just Mercy was fueled largely by racism. In Maryland, there are lots of reasons why defendants may still receive trials that are less than fair, even today. This is one of the many reasons you need an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney on your side: to use his experience to spot those flaws that deny you a fair trial and help you take the proper actions in response.

In Just Mercy, the crime was the shooting death of a young woman that had stoked public sentiment. Those facts were also true of another murder that happened a few years later in Baltimore. J.K. was accused of the victim’s murder. The prosecution’s theory was that J.K., a married man, was having an extramarital affair with the victim and sought to silence her a few days before the two were to appear in court on a child support case.

The state’s case relied heavily on several pieces of circumstantial evidence. For one thing, the state used the science of comparative bullet lead analysis to establish that the bullet that killed the victim came from the accused’s gun. Additionally, the state called a firearms examiner from the Maryland State Police to testify as a ballistics expert and back up the state’s theory of the shooting.

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Most police officers are ethical people who try to uphold the law within the confines of the rules that the constitution and the law have created. However, whether an officer is a “good” cop or a “bad” cop, the officer has the potential to make mistakes, to go outside the boundaries of the law and to engage in conduct that violates a person’s constitutional rights.

When that happens and an arrest results, the accused person has certain rights. This includes things like having the unconstitutionally acquired item(s) excluded from the evidence that a jury may consider at trial. Getting that item or items excluded, which may be the difference between acquittal and conviction, often requires a detailed knowledge of the law and of courtroom procedural rules. For that and for the overall advocacy you need, be sure you have an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney working for you.

What does this type of constitutional violation look like? T.T.’s case is a good example. Officers K.S. and J.Z., using an unmarked car, were patrolling a particularly high drug-crime area in Baltimore on New Year’s Day in 2017. As they patrolled, they spotted a silver Cadillac parked illegally (it was pointed the wrong way.) They turned on the police car’s lights and approached the occupant.

Criminal trials can be full of many nuances and “shades of gray.” For example, some kinds of evidence are generally inadmissible, but may occasionally be admissible under specific special circumstances. As an accused person standing trial, the difference between success and defeat may be your ability to persuade the court that certain pieces of potentially harmful information are inadmissible as opposed to admissible. Winning these smaller battles within the larger context of your trial can be vital, and often requires in-depth knowledge of the law, so be sure you have a capable and knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense attorney advocating for you.

As an example of the concept discussed in broad stokes above, the case of N.H. is very educational. The crime that triggered N.H.’s prolonged legal proceedings was a murder outside a Baltimore bar. D.C., who was a friend of N.H., had gotten ejected from the bar by at least four bouncers, including M.C. and T.M. Eventually, T.M. and M.C. became involved with a physical confrontation with N.H. M.C. suffered a non-lethal knife cut to the face, but T.M. got slashed in the throat and died from blood loss.

The state put N.H. on trial for first-degree murder and first-degree attempted murder. N.H. asserted he was just defending himself. In his opening statement, N.H.’s defense lawyer told the jury that N.H. was at bar to find new customers for his tattoo business that, according to the lawyer, was N.H.’s main source of income. Later in the trial, the state tried to admit part of a statement where the accused man stated that he was in the bar to sell cocaine.

When your defense involves you testifying in your trial, the prosecution is almost certainly going to do something called “impeaching” you. Unlike in politics and government, where impeaching often means seeking to remove an official from office, impeaching in this sense means offering proof that casts doubt upon the truthfulness and reliability of the person testifying. Whether or not you’re testifying in your own defense at your criminal trial, one thing you definitely need is representation from a skilled and experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney.

There are lots of ways in which the prosecution can try to impeach you as a witness in your own defense. In some circumstances, the law may allow the prosecutor to bring up past criminal convictions you have on your record. One of the rules that the law imposes, however, on this type of impeachment is that the conviction’s significance and connection to the alleged crime(s) at hand must be greater than the potential that the information will unfairly bias the jury against you, the defendant. When you hear a TV lawyer or judge talking about evidence whose “risk of unfair prejudice outweighs its probative value,” that’s what they’re talking about.

Here’s a real-life recent case that gives a good example. B.H. was a man on trial for several serious crimes. A shootout in a parking lot in Baltimore left B.H. facing charges of attempted murder, assault, reckless endangerment, drug possession and several gun crimes. Part of B.H.’s defense was to argue that he did shoot a gun that night, but that he did so in self-defense.

In this country and in this state, people are afforded certain rights, including the right to be free from being stopped by the police for no reason. That freedom is very important because, sometimes, a large amount of evidence that would otherwise be admissible in a criminal trial may be excluded if it was the result of an illegal stop. In other words, the “motion to suppress” can be one of the most important tools in your arsenal in a criminal case. To make sure that you’re only facing the evidence that the police acquired through legal and constitutional means, be sure that you have a skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney one your side.

A recent case from Baltimore is yet another example of an illegal stop and the ways in which a defendant can use that illegality to his advantage. The case began after an officer observed M.W., who allegedly matched the description of an armed robbery suspect. A second officer arrived and conducted a pat-down search of M.W., checking for weapons. M.W. told the officer he had marijuana in his possession. The officer searched some more and found cocaine on the man. The officer then arrested M.W. and further searching uncovered a Glock handgun and 12 live rounds of ammo.

The state charged M.W. with gun and drug crimes. At his trial, M.W. asked the judge to suppress his statement that he was in possession of marijuana and all the evidence that the police uncovered after that statement. The basis for that argument was that the police didn’t have the required degree of reasonable suspicion necessary to stop M.W.

Expert witness testimony can be an extremely important part of the evidence offered as part of your defense in a Maryland criminal case. The law says that the expert must be qualified, his methodology must be competent and that his testimony must be about something that is beyond the scope of knowledge of the average lay person. If the evidence does those things, then it is generally admissible. Understanding how to use experts and to get the most from their testimony is just one of many ways in which an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney can help you or a loved one facing trial.

A recent case that originated in Worcester County is an example of how expert evidence can work and how its improper exclusion can help get the accused a new trial. The man standing trial, K.S., had been the police chief in a small southeastern Maryland city. The chief was on trial for official misconduct. The state’s prosecutors claimed that he conspired to cover up a man’s possible drunk driving incident because both the driver and the chief were members of the same Masonic lodge.

As part of his defense, the chief wanted to offer the testimony of two expert witnesses. Those witnesses would have testified about “the considerations and objectives that impact a police chief’s exercise of discretion during an investigation.” This testimony would have backed up the chief’s defense argument that his handling of his lodge brother’s case was “reasonable under the circumstances and consistent with the routine discretion that a small-town police chief exercises.”

In many criminal defense cases, the difference between a conviction and an acquittal can come down to what evidence got presented to the jury, and what evidence did not. In that regard, one of the more important parts of your criminal defense can be your request that asks the judge to suppress evidence obtained through an illegal search. Both the federal and Maryland constitutions give citizens the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, and it is often vitally important to a person standing trial to use that right to his or her maximum impact. Whether it is arguing your motion to suppress or some other aspect of your defense, an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney can help you make the arguments you need in the most effective way possible.

For an example of this issue of illegal searches, consider the facts of one Baltimore man’s recent case. While patrolling northwest Baltimore, two police officers spotted a gray sedan that was allegedly speeding and weaving through a two-lane street. The officers concluded they had grounds to make a stop for erratic driving, speeding and unsafe lane changing. So they did.

During the stop, one officer spotted an orange prescription bottle with no lid in a cup holder. The officer leaned into the vehicle, moved the bottle around and spotted five white pills inside and a name on the bottle that belonged to neither the driver nor the passenger. The officer kept investigating inside the center console and found a Styrofoam cup with bullets for a .38 handgun. At that point, the officers arrested the driver, A.W., and began searching the entire vehicle. They found a .38 in the back seat under some clothes and a bag containing suspected cocaine in the driver’s pants pocket. The bottle contained five Oxycodone pills.

Television courtroom shows often include dramatic moments when lawyers object to the other side’s evidence and the judge issues a ruling. Of course, these shows are often oversimplified or fictitious and designed for good storytelling, rather than factual accuracy. In reality, would you know when, and how, to object to prosecution evidence that the state sought to bring against you? Would you know what to do if the trial judge wrongfully granted an objection regarding the evidence you sought to bring in? Knowing how to handle these situations and more are just a few examples of how it pays to have skilled Maryland criminal defense on your side.

An example of these types of evidence battles, and the importance they can have on an outcome, was a recent case from Cecil County. J.D. was a man facing some very serious felony charges. J.D. and Y.D. had become romantically involved and moved in together at J.D.’s Maryland home. The household included J.D., his three children, Y.D., her son and her daughter. In 2015, Y.D.’s daughter made allegations against J.D. of repeated instances of sexual abuse over a period of several years. She asserted that she did not come forward sooner because she feared physical harm to herself and she worried it would adversely affect her mother’s relationship with J.D.

At his trial, J.D. sought to put his son on the witness stand. The son testified that the alleged victim was a disciplinary problem at home did not like living under the rules that J.D. imposed. The son testified that, after an allegedly stolen cell phone, the alleged victim became angry with the disciplinary decision J.D. made and was “yelling and screaming and saying things that she could do that would get him in trouble.” The son also sought to testify that the alleged victim was argumentative and “would not tell the truth about certain things.”

In any criminal jury trial, it is the job of the jury to determine whether or not the accused person is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This includes assessing the credibility of various types of evidence, including the testimony of an alleged victim. In other words, the jury must decide which testimony is believable and which isn’t. That responsibility falls solely on the jury and any trial where that task gets shifted to someone else is improper and may allow a convicted defendant to obtain a new trial. Whether it is improper expert opinion testimony or other inadmissible evidence, it is important to be armed with the arguments you need to keep out such proof, which is why it pays to have skilled Maryland criminal defense counsel in your corner.

An example of such an improper process occurred in the trial of a man in Charles County. J.F. was accused of sexually abusing his daughter three times when the girl was between five and eight years old. The first trial ended in a hung jury. In the second trial, the vast majority of the evidence the state had against the father was out-of-court statements by the daughter and the daughter’s trial testimony.

This wasn’t all of the evidence that the state presented, though. The state also called a counselor as an expert witness. The examiner testified that the girl displayed no “signs of fabrication” and that she had no concerns that the girl’s out-of-court statements accusing the father were the result of coaching or otherwise weren’t true. The jury eventually convicted the father.

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