Articles Posted in First-Degree Murder

Many people frequently make the mistake of thinking that the key to success in a criminal case lies within some evidence produced at trial or some argument made during the trial itself. In TV courtroom dramas, the “a-ha!” moment almost always happens at or near the end of the trial. In real life, however, it’s more complicated than that. Each phase of the process can potentially be the one that makes the difference between acquittal and conviction. The question that tips the outcome in your favor may be one asked during voir dire, long before anyone even makes an opening statement at trial. This, among many other things, is why you need to be sure you have a skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney working for you from the very beginning of your case.

Not a lot of people know much about voir dire other than as a badly mispronounced phrase in the 1990s courtroom comedy film, My Cousin Vinny. In reality, voir dire is an essential process in any criminal case. When it comes to a jury, voir dire means a process where the judge and the attorneys asked potential jurors a series of questions. Voir dire is very, very important because it can go a long way toward identifying people who will be willing to look at all the evidence and render a fair verdict, and also identify people who might be predisposed toward returning a guilty verdict, even when the state hasn’t fully met its burden.

In a recent first-degree murder case, the defense was looking for those kinds of potential jurors, hoping to identify and exclude them. The defense wanted to ask several questions designed to achieve that goal, including spotting potential jurors who would be unwilling or unable to follow jury instructions related to the defendant’s presumption of innocence, the state’s burden of proof and the defendant’s right not to take the stand in his own defense. The trial judge, however, refused to allow those questions to be posed to the potential jurors.

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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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If you’re watching your favorite courtroom drama show, you may hear a lawyer say to a judge, “Objection! Hearsay!” That’s because, most of the time, hearsay evidence is inadmissible at trial. The law considers general hearsay to be lacking the degree of reliability needed for admissible evidence in a court of law. Some hearsay is admissible, though. That’s the hearsay that falls into one of the exceptions carved out by the law. An “excited utterance,” for example, is one of the exceptions in Maryland.

In your criminal trial, the difference between success and defeat may be your ability to win an admissibility argument about one or more pieces of hearsay evidence. To be sure you have the best chance of winning these and other arguments against the prosecution, be sure you have an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney protecting you.

An excited utterance is an immediate statement made in a state of shock or extreme excitement due to a “startling event or condition.” The idea is that the speaker is so stressed that she is speaking spontaneously and sincerely, and her words “may be taken as particularly trustworthy.” A recent case originating in Baltimore shines a light on just how far the boundaries of “excited utterance” do – and do not – go.

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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.

Immigration, and particularly the issue of undocumented individuals, is very much a “hot button” issue these days. That is even true in civil and criminal trials, where a party in the case may seek to make an issue of a witness’s immigration status in order to diminish the witness in the eyes of the jury. Sometimes, Maryland law says that you can’t bring up a witness’s immigration status as a means of attacking that witness’s credibility (which is something the law calls “impeaching a witness”). In some specific circumstances, though, you may be able to use a prosecution witness’s immigration status against her in order to make her less believable in the eyes of the jury. As always, it helps to have an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney on your side who knows all the “ins and outs” and nuances of the law, and how to use them to maximum advantage in your defense.

A recent case involving an undocumented witness provides some useful knowledge about how this process works. In the case, the state put T.K. on trial for murder. T.K. was a man who resided on the street where the shooting occurred. One the state’s key witnesses was M.L., a 15-year-old boy and a neighbor of T.K., who allegedly saw the accused shoot the victim. Another prosecution witness was M.L.’s mother, who allegedly saw T.K. running away from the scene of the shooting with a gun in his hand.

M.L. and his mother, however, were undocumented immigrants. The defense wanted to use that information to attempt to persuade the jury that the boy and his mother were not always honest and therefore not trustworthy. The trial judge didn’t allow the line of questioning and the jury convicted T.K. The Court of Special Appeals upheld that ruling on appeal.

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.

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