Articles Posted in First-Degree Murder

GavelIn 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.

Witness standIf 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.

courtroomA 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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Prison Cell 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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gavel-3-1236445A criminal arrest and prosecution are serious matters, whether the alleged crime is a felony or misdemeanor. After reviewing your case, an experienced criminal defense attorney would be able to assess the circumstances and the applicable law, and prepare a strong defense of the charges. It is also important to understand that a person who has already been convicted of a crime may also have an opportunity to challenge the conviction or the ultimate sentence. These options can achieve positive results for the “appellant.” For instance, in some matters, a sentence has been deemed “illegal” and thrown out by an appeals court. For these reasons, it is vitally important that you reach out to a local Maryland criminal defense attorney if you have been charged or convicted of a crime.

A court-imposed sentence typically corresponds directly to the crimes of which a defendant has been found guilty. In a recent Maryland criminal case, Octavius Savage was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder as well as second-degree murder. He was acquitted of first-degree murder charges. The court issued two sentences:  a term of life imprisonment for the conspiracy to commit murder conviction, and 30 years of incarceration for the second-degree murder conviction. Savage appealed, arguing that the court abused its discretion by imposing an illegal sentence as described above.

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dna-markers-1475227Among the many defenses a person can assert in a criminal case, evidence relating to DNA has gained increasing attention over recent years. Not only do people present DNA evidence throughout the course of their trials, but also cases have even been re-opened when relevant DNA evidence comes to light. One of the primary reasons for the increased use of such evidence in a criminal case is the continuous technological and scientific advancements in the field. Of course, state laws applicable to criminal cases must also evolve to keep up with these changes.

In 2001, Maryland’s General Assembly enacted the post-conviction DNA testing statute to provide a way for people who have been convicted of certain crimes to gather mitigating or exculpatory evidence through DNA testing of items related to the conviction. To understand how this law could apply to your case, you are encouraged to contact a Maryland criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

In a recent case involving a request for post-conviction relief, the appellant was convicted of first-degree murder and other related offenses in 1996. Many years later, in 2008, quite a while after the conviction became final, the appellant sought relief under the post-conviction DNA testing statute. He attempted to prove that under Section 8-201 of the Maryland Criminal Procedure Article, one item of the prosecution’s case (socks allegedly worn at the time of the murders) failed to contain his DNA. However, the State responded by informing the appellant that the socks no longer existed and were destroyed along with other items related to the case, once the matter was deemed final. The appellant did not reply to this response and later unsuccessfully pursued additional post-conviction relief, claiming that the evidence was destroyed in bad faith.

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hammer-to-fall-1223606In any criminal trial, the makeup of the jury is a critical component of a fair proceeding. Voir dire is the process by which trial attorneys have an opportunity to select or reject potential jurors. There are many rules associated with this process, the outcome of which can have a dramatic impact on the jury’s approach to a case. Maryland courts have described the sole purpose of voir dire as an attempt to ensure a fair and impartial jury by examining whether there is a specific cause for disqualification. The law provides some guidance in this area and should be consulted when selecting jurors for a case. If you have been arrested or charged with a crime, it is extremely important to reach out to an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney, someone with a knowledge of the laws affecting such cases.

When the jury selection process begins, counsel for each side typically sets forth certain questions to be asked of each potential juror for the purpose of eliciting responses that would reveal grounds for disqualification. In Maryland, courts have identified two broad areas of inquiry that could expose a ground for such disqualification:  1) questions to determine whether the prospective juror meets the minimum statutory qualifications for jury service, and 2) questions aimed at revealing the potential juror’s state of mind with respect to the subject matter of the trial or any other matter likely to have undue influence over him or her.

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