Articles Posted in First-Degree Murder

An experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney can benefit you and your case in a number of ways. Obviously, a skilled defense attorney can present your defense in a clear and persuasive manner to convince a jury to return a verdict of “not guilty.” However, a skilled defense lawyer can go beyond that, because there is more than one way to avoid conviction. In the interest of fairness, the law places certain restrictions on the prosecution. If the state violates any of those rules, that violation may entitle you to have your conviction thrown out.

An example of using these rules to achieve a successful result was the case of D.M. D.M. was one of several teens arrested in connection with a fatal attack in Baltimore. In the attack, the group allegedly stomped and kicked the victim. A 15-year-old juvenile, P.G., had a knife and stabbed the victim 11 times. (The victim died from blood loss less than 24 hours after the attack.) The state charged D.M. with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, armed robbery, conspiracy to commit armed robbery and theft, among other charges.

At the end of D.M.’s trial, the court did not find him guilty on the murder charges. The court did, however, find him guilty of first-degree assault based upon the stomping/kicking of the victim. D.M. received 13 years on the assault conviction.

The law has some very clear and strict limitations on using what’s called “other bad acts” against a defendant in a criminal trial. The reason for this is very sensible: the interests of justice are not served if a jury decides to convict a person, not because the evidence proves the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, but because the jury hears about prior bad acts and decides that the accused is a bad person. Generally, a person’s other, unrelated bad acts from his past are not relevant to whether or not he committed the current crime, so they should not be admissible. When it comes to keeping out evidence that should not be admissible in your trial, be sure you have experienced Maryland defense counsel on your side to protect your rights.

Take, as an example, the case of N., who was out a bar in Baltimore one night in September 2014. An acquaintance managed to get thrown out of the bar by four employees, including two bouncers. Several people, including N., spilled outside and the bouncing turned into another fracas where the bouncers, according to N., attacked him. N. allegedly attempted to defend himself with a knife. One bouncer received a facial cut, the other was slashed in the throat. The second bouncer died.

The state charged N. with first-degree murder and first-degree attempted murder. At the trial, the prosecution played a statement in which N. admitted that he went to the bar that night intending to sell cocaine. The jury acquitted N. of the murder and attempted murder charges, but convicted him on two lesser charges.

Any criminal defendant should seek out strong defense counsel, but this need is especially true if you are facing charges likely to arouse powerful emotions and inflame passions. A skilled Maryland homicide defense attorney can help ensure that, even in the face of great community desire for retribution, the accused receives a fair trial in which his rights are fully protected and his defense is presented zealously and persuasively.

One case with such a set of emotional facts was a murder trial in which the victim was a young child. Kevin stood trial for the murder of his three-year-old nephew. The uncle was accused of beating, shaking, and slamming the boy so severely while babysitting the nephew that the child died two days later. In Kevin’s case, one of the key pieces of evidence the prosecution used was a series of text messages that Kevin exchanged with his wife, Amanda. The prosecution intended for the text messages to show what appeared to be Kevin’s progressively increasing degree of agitation and frustration with the child. The messages also included Kevin’s admission that he bit the child and that the boy “bruises easy.” After considering this and all of the other evidence, the jury returned a verdict of guilty on the charge of first-degree murder.

Kevin appealed and succeeded in getting his conviction overturned. The key to the accused man’s successful appeal was the admission into evidence of the text messages he exchanged with his wife throughout the morning and afternoon in which he was babysitting the victim. The Court of Special Appeals agreed with the accused man that the text message exchange was protected by the privilege covering marital communications.

If you watch TV courtroom dramas, you’ve probably seen the scenario:  the intrepid defense lawyer, on cross-examination, seeks to weaken the prosecution’s case by questioning the prosecution’s star witness about his motives:  namely, whether or not the witness negotiated a favorable plea deal in exchange for his testimony. While many common situations in TV courtroom dramas are wholly fictional, this one has some basis in fact. In many situations, the defense is entitled to ask a prosecution witness about whether he has reached, expects to reach, or hopes to reach a favorable plea deal on his own pending criminal charges. These questions can be essential to show bias on the part of the witness and weaken the credibility of the prosecution’s witness. A skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney can help you with these and other criminal defense trial strategies.

In one recent case, a man convicted of murder was able to secure a new trial precisely because his attorney sought to ask these types of questions of a key prosecution witness, but the trial judge did not allow the questions.

The defendant, Rudy, was facing first-degree murder charges in connection with a shooting outside an apartment in Prince George’s County. At Rudy’s trial, the prosecution’s version of events was that Rudy killed the victim “execution-style” as a result of an argument the men had inside the apartment. Rudy’s version of the facts was that the victim pushed him, tried to hit him with a fire extinguisher, and pulled a gun on Rudy. That gun was what killed the victim, according to Rudy, since it discharged when he tried to wrestle it away from the deceased man.

Every part of your criminal trial is important. While it might be easy to focus on the trial itself, the events that occur before that, including voir dire, can also be enormously important. Even seemingly small errors can be important enough to entitle you to a new trial and a reversal of a conviction. They key is to make sure that you work with skilled Maryland criminal defense attorneys who know all of the rules and how to utilize violations that can help your appeal.

An example of a voir dire in which an error took place, and that error had a major impact, was the case of a man named Prince. Prince was standing trial for first-degree murder. In 2014, police had arrested him in connection with a four-year-old murder of a tow truck driver in West Baltimore.

One of the first steps in any criminal trial is “voir dire,” which is the process of selecting a jury. During this process, both the state and the defense compose questions that they submit to the court and that the judge asks to the potential jurors. Voir dire is a very important part of the trial process because it gives you the opportunity to identify prospective jurors with pre-dispositions that might be harmful to your case. In that scenario, you can use a “strike,” which is a request to the court to remove that potential juror from the prospective jury pool.

When you are facing criminal charges, there are multiple ways to achieve a successful outcome. You may seek to prove that you didn’t do the crime the state alleged. Alternately, you may try to prove that, even if you did it, you have a legal defense (like self-defense) that prevents your being found guilty. Especially when your defense rests upon one of these “affirmative defenses,” it is essential to make sure you get all of the evidence that supports your defense placed into evidence. A skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney can help you in proving all of the necessary elements of your affirmative defense.

Recently, a case from Prince George’s County offered an example of such a circumstance playing out in court. The accused, Tania, admitted that, on Oct. 24, 2007, she fatally shot her boyfriend. At the time, Tania stated that the boyfriend had raped her, which led to the shooting. Tania was tried and convicted, but that conviction was later overturned on appeal.

In her second trial, the state presented the case as a murder-suicide in which Tania failed to complete the suicide part. In her defense, Tania attempted to argue as an affirmative defense that she was suffering from battered spouse syndrome at the time of the shooting. Tania had an expert witness who testified on her behalf with regard to battered spouse syndrome, Tania’s suffering from the syndrome, and its effects on her actions. At the trial, though, the judge restricted many pieces of testimony that Tania wanted to introduce. Some of this was testimony from Tania, some from the expert witness, and all of it related to things that the boyfriend allegedly said to Tania.

In any criminal case, preparing a defense involves covering a lot of bases. Sometimes, success may hinge upon excluding a piece of evidence or obtaining compelling eyewitness testimony. At other times, though, a successful Maryland criminal defense may involve something as specific as the jury instructions given in your case. In the trial of one man ultimately convicted of murder, the jury instructions were the key to his receiving a new trial because those instructions did not instruct the jury about the presumption of innocence or the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of proof.

David was accused in the late 1960s of shooting and killing another man in Baltimore. In 1969, at the conclusion of a jury trial, David was found guilty and sentenced. The accused man filed motions with the trial court, asking for post-conviction relief, but they were not successful. In 2014, he asked the trial court to re-open his post-conviction relief motions. The court again turned him down.

The accused murderer appealed, and, this time, he achieved success. The Court of Special Appeals ordered his conviction reversed and ordered the trial court to grant him a new trial. What was it that was the key to a reversal of the conviction and David’s receipt of a new trial? It came down to the way that the judge instructed the jury in his original murder trial.

If you or a loved one is facing trial on major felony charges, there are many things you can reasonably expect to face, including skillful law enforcement officers and knowledgeable, aggressive prosecutors. One thing you should not have to face is testimony against you when you are not allowed to confront and cross-examine the witness. By having a knowledgeable Maryland criminal lawyer on your side, you can enhance your chances that the evidence you will have to overcome is only the evidence that is admissible under the law.

One recent example of a defendant obtaining a reversal based upon such improper evidence was the trial of a man charged with first-degree murder in connection with a fatal shooting in the parking lot of a Salisbury motel as a party broke up. According to the state’s case, the defendant was accompanied by three accomplices when he shot the 17-year-old victim. Two of the alleged accomplices, Larry and Ky-Shir, asserted their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination, and the third struck a plea deal and agreed to testify against the defendant.

At the defendant’s trial, two police officers testified. They testified about statements that Larry and Ky-Shir had made to them. In those statements, the alleged accomplices had attempted to provide alibis but had made inconsistent statements concerning their whereabouts on the night of the killing. The police also testified that Ky-Shir identified the defendant as the shooter.

A Colorado man who was arrested after appearing in Maryland as a material witness in another man’s murder trial was unable to reverse his conviction and life sentence through the appeals process. The man lost his appeal because, even though he possibly had a valid claim that his arrest violated a state statute, he failed to raise the issue of that violation during his trial. By waiting until his appeal to bring up the violation, the man was too late, according to a recent opinion by the Court of Special Appeals. The outcome presents a clear illustration of the importance of identifying all issues in your case and presenting them in the timeframe required by the law in order to avoid the problem of waiver.

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In three separate rulings, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals tossed out the life-without-parole sentences imposed against three men. The cases show the special circumstances that are involved in sentencing any youthful offender in a murder case. In each case, the offender was under 18 years old at the time of the crime, and, in each case, the sentencing judge did not do a meaningful analysis of the offender’s youth and potential for rehabilitation before issuing the sentences. Based upon recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court, a court may only sentence an under-18 offender to life without parole after first concluding that the offender’s acts showed a rare degree of “irreparable corruption.”

Each of the men who won their recent appeals had been convicted of first-degree murder. Aaron Holly, along with a 24-year-old man, was convicted in the shooting death of a Baltimore County woman in a botched robbery. Marcus Tunstall, while in the company of an older man, shot three people in a string of drug-related robberies. Kenneth Alvira and two 19-year-old men carjacked a woman. As part of the carjacking, the driver was stabbed and died from her wounds. Holly and Tunstall were 17 at the time of their crimes; Alvira was 16.

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