Articles Posted in Evidence

The outcome of a criminal case often depends in large part on the sufficiency of the evidence in light of established Maryland law. There are many defenses that may be asserted with respect to allegedly incriminating evidence. When a person is charged with criminal possession of contraband, courts have held that such possession may be constructive (rather than actual) or joint (rather than exclusive). These distinctions are important and can dramatically affect the result of a criminal case. A person charged with criminal possession of any controlled dangerous substance must take the matter very seriously and contact an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney as soon as possible in order to prepare a strong defense.

In a recent case, Cerrato-Molina v. State, a jury convicted the appellant of possession of marijuana, crack cocaine, and cocaine hydrochloride. The appellant argued that the evidence was legally insufficient to submit the case to the jury. Here, a Maryland Detective was in a marked police vehicle when he noticed two men drinking beer in a white Jeep that was parked with the engine running. As the Detective turned his vehicle around and came up behind the Jeep, it took off suddenly, traveling at a “high rate of speed” through a residential area. As the Detective followed the Jeep, he noticed objects flying out of the front passenger window. A short while later, the Jeep ran up onto a curb and came to a halt. The Detective arrested the driver and passenger, the appellant in this case.

Upon searching the path of the vehicle for the objects that were thrown out of the window, the Detective found three baggies containing suspected drugs that were later submitted to a lab and determined to contain controlled dangerous substances.  In challenging the convictions, the appellant argued that there was no direct evidence that he possessed the drugs found on the street. The court of appeals, however, pointed to established Maryland case law that possession need not be “sole possession” but may be joint possession and joint control in several persons. Accordingly, courts have identified the following list of criteria to determine if joint possession exists:  1) proximity between the defendant and the contraband; 2) whether the contraband was in view or otherwise within the knowledge of the defendant; 3) the ownership or possessory right in the automobile or premises in which the item is found; or 4) circumstances under which a reasonable inference could be made that the defendant was participating with others in the mutual enjoyment and use of the contraband.

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Under Maryland law, crimes are divided into two groups:  misdemeanors and felonies. Most people know and understand that a felony is considered more serious and typically accompanied by a longer sentence. But a conviction of either type of crime can affect a person’s life in many ways. A common misdemeanor is driving while under the influence of alcohol.  A person may be arrested or charged with this crime based upon proof that the person was actually witnessed driving under the influence in the present tense, or based upon a “permitted inference” that he or she drove under the influence in the past tense. When the arrest, charge, or conviction is based on the latter situation, the question of proof can be a bit tricky. Anyone who is arrested or charged with driving under the influence is strongly encouraged to contact a Maryland criminal defense attorney with extensive experience handling DUI cases.

In a recent Maryland case, Harding v. State, a jury convicted Todd Harding of driving under the influence, refusing to take a breath alcohol test, and driving with a suspended license. He appealed the conviction, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to send the case to the jury. Specifically, the appellant argued that the evidence was not legally sufficient as to whether he had actually been driving the pickup truck in which he was found. In this case, Baltimore City firefighters responded to a call reporting a vehicle accident with “people trapped.” According to the firefighters who were first on the scene, it appeared that the moving vehicle had jumped the curb and gone into the bushes as it came to a sudden stop. One firefighter in particular noted that the appellant was sitting at the driver’s wheel, slumped over, and seemed intoxicated.  He further observed that the truck was still running and had white smoke coming out of it.  An officer also witnessed the appellant get out of the car and stagger on the sidewalk. He refused a field sobriety test and was arrested and taken to the police station, where he refused a breath alcohol test.

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A person who is arrested or charged with a criminal offense will be entitled to many legal protections throughout the criminal proceedings. It is important to understand the extent of one’s legal rights at each stage of the process. Once a case reaches trial, there are many local state rules of evidence that a court may enforce in order to protect the person charged with a crime. One important example concerns the State’s use of evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts in the pursuit of a conviction. Maryland law is fairly clear on this issue. Evidence of prior criminal acts may not be introduced to prove the guilt of the offense for which the defendant is on trial. As with many evidence rules, there are certain exceptions, the applicability of which will depend on the circumstances of the case. If you have any questions regarding a criminal arrest or charge, it is essential that you contact a Maryland criminal defense attorney as soon as possible in order to protect your rights.

In a recent case, Page v. State of Maryland, Jamal Marcus Page appealed his conviction, arguing (among other things) that the court erred in allowing evidence of an alleged “other assault,” committed by Page against the victim approximately two weeks prior to the charged offense. According to the facts revealed at trial, the victim — Rubearth Nichols — claimed that Page shot him six times and then ran away. He further testified that he had known Page for approximately nine or ten years and identified him, both in and out of court. Nichols further testified that, two weeks before this shooting, he and Page had argued over money and that Page attempted to shoot him then, but his gun jammed. The jury convicted Page of attempted second-degree murder and the use of a handgun in the commission of a felony or crime of violence (among other crimes). He was sentenced to 50 years of incarceration, with 15 years suspended.

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The journalists from “This American Life,” a public radio broadcast, recently created the hugely popular podcast, “Serial,” which “aired” last fall. According to their website, Serial presents one story (a true story), over sequential episodes. For its inaugural “season”, the journalists at Serial chose the 1999 murder of a Woodlawn High School student, Hae Min Lee. Her high school ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was convicted of murdering Hae Min and is currently serving a life sentence in a West Maryland correctional facility. In some recent legal developments, a Maryland court has agreed to permit an appeal in Syed’s case.

This past January, a Baltimore circuit court denied Syed’s petition for post conviction relief. The most recent decision by the Court of Special Appeals reverses that decision and essentially allows Syed to appeal the denial. Post conviction relief is different than a direct appeal from a trial court ruling. Under Maryland law, a person convicted of a crime at trial has a right to appeal that court’s ruling. In such instances, the Court of Special Appeals is obligated to hear the “appellant’s” challenge of the trial court’s decision. A petition for post conviction relief is different, in that the person convicted of a crime is not necessarily entitled to an appeal. One must file with the court an “Application for Leave to Appeal,” essentially asking for permission to appeal. The court has full discretion as to whether to grant the appeal.

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The seriousness of a criminal arrest cannot be overstated, no matter what the severity of the crime. An arrest record or conviction can affect a person’s life in a variety of ways for years to come. And while a felony conviction is typically accompanied by a lengthier sentence and possibly more stigma later on, it is equally important to defend against a misdemeanor charge. If you have been arrested or charged with any type of crime, it is critical that you take steps to prepare a strong defense as early in the process as possible. An experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney will work to protect and preserve your rights at each stage in the proceeding.

The State of Maryland prosecutes misdemeanors and felony cases alike. The laws governing these offenses are codified by section within the state code and set forth certain elements that must be established before a person’s rights can be taken away. In many cases, a jury will determine whether the State has proven that the defendant violated the law within the particular facts and circumstances of a case. This is where a defense attorney comes in:  to present a solid defense, either negating an element of the crime, or reducing the severity of the charges.

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The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution guarantees citizens the right to be free from an illegal search and seizure. Law enforcement authorities are expected to have “probable cause” before conducting a search of a person or their car and other items. If you have been arrested or charged with a crime, it is important to determine whether the evidence supporting the charge was obtained in a legal manner. In cases where there is doubt about the legality of the search and seizure procedures, you may make a motion with the court to “suppress the evidence.” To understand your rights and the circumstances under which a court may grant a motion to suppress, you are encouraged to contact a Maryland criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

When a defendant moves to suppress evidence, courts typically will hold a “suppression hearing” to determine the legitimacy of the search and seizure. In a recent Maryland case, an officer who was conducting surveillance of a motel in Baltimore saw a man pacing in the parking lot. A few minutes later, the officer saw that man get into the passenger side of a car that had just pulled into the lot. He then exited the car soon after. The officer believed he had just witnessed a drug transaction and started to follow the car as it left the lot.

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In most criminal cases, the defendant will have opportunities throughout the proceeding to raise a number of different defenses. These defenses can serve to reduce the severity of the criminal charges or set forth a complete defense. Additionally, if a person is convicted of the charged crimes, he or she may challenge the decision on various grounds and through specific legal mechanisms. In order to challenge a conviction, the defendant must be able to set forth supporting information and evidence to satisfy the legal requirements. The best way to determine if you are eligible to challenge a conviction is to consult with an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

Depending on the case, a defendant may bring something known as a “writ of error coram nobis,” which is a civil action, independent and separate from the underlying action from which it emanated. According to Maryland case law, this proceeding enables a “convicted person who is not incarcerated and not on parole or probation, who is suddenly faced with a significant collateral consequence of his or her conviction, [to] … challenge the conviction on constitutional or fundamental grounds.” In a recent criminal case, the defendant pleaded guilty to using a minor to distribute heroin back in 1999. He was sentenced to six years in prison, and all but 18 months were suspended, followed by three years of probation. Continue reading →

Under 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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The Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures. Under established case law, an officer who “pats down” or “stops and frisks” a person must be able to justify the intrusion by pointing to “specific and articulable facts” that, when considered together “with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant that intrusion.” Essentially, the officer must be able to articulate what it was that aroused his or her suspicions in order to justify the search. In such cases, courts will evaluate the reasonableness of the search or seizure in light of the unique circumstances of the case.

Clearly, whether the officer is entitled to conduct a pat down depends in large part on the specific facts. Where appropriate, an individual arrested or charged with a crime may argue that the officer violated his or her constitutional rights and was not justified in conducting the search. In such cases, the defendant may be able to suppress any evidence gathered as a result of that search. If you have been arrested or charged with a crime, it is extremely important to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who is fully aware of proper legal criminal procedure in Maryland.

In a recent case, the defendant was convicted of possession of cocaine, wearing, carrying, or transporting a handgun in a vehicle (and on his person), concealing a dangerous weapon, and speeding. According to the suppression hearing record, the arresting officer stopped the defendant for driving 58 m.p.h. in a 35 m.p.h. zone. According to the officer, during the stop, the defendant was sitting “statue-like,” staring straight ahead with his hands in his lap. The officer also noticed that the defendant’s two front jacket pockets were “bulging” as if they had something in them. Because of the bulges in the defendant’s pockets and because he failed to make eye contact, the officer decided to obtain information regarding the defendant’s criminal history. He found out that the defendant was on probation for a possession of a handgun in a vehicle charge.

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Depending on the circumstances, a defendant charged in a criminal action may be able to assert several different defenses, some of which could result in a reduction of the severity of the charges or an acquittal. In a recent case, the defendant was convicted of robbery with a deadly weapon and multiple related charges. While he raised two defenses, one related to prejudicial hearsay during the trial and another concerning an impermissibly suggestive identification, the court of appeals upheld the convictions. If you have been arrested or charged with a crime, it is extremely important that you contact a Maryland criminal attorney who can review your case to properly respond to the allegations and raise any applicable defenses to protect your rights.

In the case described above, a man and his son arranged to meet the defendant to purchase two cell phones that were advertised on Craigslist. They brought two additional children with them to make the purchase. According to the facts of the case, instead of selling the phones, the defendant told them they were being robbed and pulled a gun out. Defendant allegedly shot one of the would-be purchasers. As the crime was being investigated, the victims identified the defendant as the assailant through photographic identifications. The defendant moved to suppress the identifications in a pre-trial hearing, arguing that the police used “impermissibly suggestive” procedures in securing the identifications. The motions court denied the defendant’s motion to suppress, and he was later convicted at trial of the assorted charges mentioned above.

The defendant appealed his convictions, alleging that the trial court admitted prejudicial hearsay improperly and that the motions court erred in denying his motion to suppress the photographic identifications. The court of appeals rejected both arguments. During the trial, a detective’s testimony improperly referenced certain out-of-court information that connected the appellant to the robbery. The court agreed that it was inadmissible hearsay, but appellant did not move to strike the testimony, nor did he ask for a mistrial. Furthermore, the court gave instructions to the jury that stricken testimony was not to be considered as evidence. The court of appeals concluded that appellant received all the relief that he sought with respect to the inadmissible testimony, and therefore there was no error. Continue reading →

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