Articles Posted in Guns

Back in September, the Maryland Court of Appeals made a very important ruling. Unless you read legal publications, you probably haven’t heard about it, as it didn’t make the major newspapers. The case wasn’t a big reversal of an accused person’s major conviction. In fact, it wasn’t even a criminal matter at all, but it potentially impacts a lot of criminal defendants in this state. What it does represent is a reminder that having a knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense attorney, who’s up to date on the latest developments in the law in this state, can make an enormous difference in your criminal case.

The ruling involved a civil case where a woman sued her former landlord for harm she allegedly suffered as a result of lead paint exposure. The key issue the state’s high court addressed was the correct standard for assessing whether or not evidence from an expert witness is admissible at trial. The court changed the standard that Maryland courts must use, adopting a standard created in a 1993 U.S. Supreme Court case.

The impact of that change is already being felt by people facing criminal charges in this state. A man, K.A., received a new opportunity to potentially defeat the murder charge against him. In K.A.’s trial, the state presented an expert who used a “toolmark identification” method to determine that, in his opinion, the bullets recovered from the victim’s body matched a gun recovered from K.A.

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Police many times strive to create situations in which they can conduct a search of your vehicle in order to obtain additional evidence… and possibly additional charges. The problem for the police is that they cannot search just anyone’s car. They need either to have a search warrant for that car or they need to have probable cause to conduct a warrantless search. A great deal of evidence is often unearthed through the execution of warrantless searches and, a lot of times, those searches are the result of insufficient probable cause. When that happens, you need the right Maryland criminal defense attorney on your side to get that evidence suppressed at trial.

O.W. was someone caught in a warrantless search scenario like that. In early 2019, Anne Arundel County police sought to arrest him on an open arrest warrant. The police apprehended the man at a Glen Burnie car wash. After the police took the man into custody, they searched the vehicle he drove to the car wash. The police found a handgun lying on the seat underneath a jacket. That gun led the police to add an additional weapons charge against O.W.

O.W. faced several complications in seeking to get the gun evidence excluded from his case. For one thing, the car wasn’t legally his, a fact that the state pointed out in its argument against suppression of the gun evidence. O.W.’s girlfriend had leased the vehicle and the lease had expired the day before the police apprehended the man.

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One of the ways that police seek to obtain evidence to use against suspects is through performing warrantless searches. A warrantless search may allow the police to recover drugs, weapons or other objects that lead to an arrest. Fortunately, the constitution does not allow the police to conduct warrantless searches whenever they want; rather, the law requires them to have a “reasonable articulable suspicion.” Without that, the search is illegal, and evidence recovered is subject to being suppressed at your trial. Keeping that evidence out requires making the right suppression arguments, though, so be sure you are protecting your rights by having an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney representing you.

Having established that a reasonable articulable suspicion is required, the next question you’re probably wondering is… what is a reasonable suspicion? For example, is the fact that you were caught by the police in a high-crime area enough to allow for a search without a warrant? As one recent case from Prince George’s County recently reminds us, the answer to that generally is “no.”

In that case, two Prince George’s County police officers went to an apartment complex in a high-crime area in response to a noise complaint. The officers saw several people in and around a dark-colored car. As the officers approached, T.R. stepped up onto the curb in front of the car. One officer asked T.R. a question and, after T.R. made a motion that the officer interpreted as reaching for a gun, he conducted a pat-down search.

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There are various ways in which the state can pursue a case against you based on drug or weapons charges, with one of those being a “possession” charge. Many times, the prosecution seeks to do so by proving you had “constructive possession” of the contraband. That often relies heavily on circumstantial evidence, and may be more readily defeated than an “actual possession” charge. With the help of a knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense attorney, you may be able to minimize the persuasiveness of the state’s circumstantial evidence and get the acquittal or dismissal you need.

Here in Maryland, the law has created a four-part method for determining constructive possession. In the example of possession of ammunition, those parts are: (1) Did the defendant have ownership or the legal right to possess the item (such as a car, a home, a desk or a dresser) where the ammunition was found? (2) Was the ammunition located in close proximity to the accused? (3) Was the property item in “plain view”? (4) Was there any evidence of actual possession of the ammunition?

The recent case a Baltimore man recently faced is an example of clearly insufficient evidence of constructive possession. It’s important to remember that, in every element of the criminal charges you’re facing, it is the state that bears the burden of proof. In other words, the prosecutors have to “prove it” rather than your having to negate elements of the crime.

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Law enforcement officers may stop your moving vehicle or approach your parked vehicle for a variety of reasons. While many of those reasons are legal and appropriate, sometimes they’re not. When you’re involved in an illegal search and seizure and that encounter ends with your arrest, then the law says that you are entitled to a trial that does not include the evidence found. A trial without that evidence will almost certainly increase your odds of an acquittal. However, to get that trial without that damaging evidence, you have to know the right way to go about seeking a ruling from the judge suppressing that evidence. To ensure that your criminal trial does not include any evidence the police obtained illegally, it pays to have a skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney handling your case.

K.W.’s criminal case was one of those situations. He and a woman were inside a pickup truck parked in a Temple Hills apartment complex parking lot. While on patrol, a police officer spotted “a lot of movement” inside K.W.’s truck, so the officer approached the truck.

Once K.W.’s passenger rolled down her window, the officer smelled an odor of alcohol, and spotted a half-empty bottle of gin and two plastic cups with what looked like liquor in them. The officer ordered K.W. out of the truck. The officer then began a search of the truck, theoretically to recover the bottle of gin. During the search, the officer found a gun that was registered to K.W.

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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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Both the U.S. and Maryland courts include protections against law enforcement officers conducting unreasonable searches and seizures. Maryland law also has some clear guideposts about the circumstances that do (or do not) constitute a search or seizure, and they include some scenarios you might not necessarily have associated with illegal searches unless you were keenly familiar with the law.

That’s why you need a knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense attorney handling your case. Your knowledgeable attorney does have that kind of extremely in-depth knowledge of search-and-seizure law, in addition to many other essential aspects of Maryland criminal law.

The situation that led to K.C.’s trial is a good example of what we mean. While Maryland Transit Authority officers were performing a sweep looking for fare dodgers aboard a light rail train, one passenger, K.C., informed an officer that he had no ticket to ride. The officer ordered K.C. to exit the train and sit on a bench. The MTA officers began running a check on K.C. for outstanding warrants. While officers ran that warrants check, K.C. tried to escape and three officers tackled him. During that interaction, one officer discovered a gun and another subsequently searched K.C., finding multiple bags of cocaine.

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A criminal defendant has many rights under the U.S. and Maryland constitutions. Article 5 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights says that a criminal defendant has the right to be physically present at every stage of his trial. This right is very important because, sometimes, a judge will misconstrue, forget, overlook or ignore this rule and engage in something that qualifies as a “stage” of the trial outside the accused person’s presence.

When that happens, that’s often considered a violation of the accused person’s fundamental rights and may often trigger a right to a new trial. Of course, utilizing your rights (and sometimes the violations of them) to your maximum benefit requires in-depth knowledge of the law, so it pays to have an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney on your side.

To see how this can work to an accused person’s benefit, look at the case of K.M. In the summer of 2016, two Baltimore police officers investigated a tip about a man and a handgun. The officers spotted K.M., and began following him and his girlfriend. Eventually they stopped the couple and, inside a diaper bag, the officers found a loaded Glock 19 with live rounds inside it, along with an additional magazine.

For many people, traffic checkpoints operated by police trigger feelings of frustration and annoyance. For others, then can be a source of stress and anxiety. If you are arrested during a police checkpoint, there may still be cause for hope. The law in Maryland imposes some restrictions on what does or does not qualify as a valid checkpoint in terms of complying with the Fourth Amendment. If your checkpoint doesn’t pass that test, then the evidence secured as a result of that checkpoint may be excluded from your criminal case. To find out more about what you can do in your case that arose from a checkpoint, be sure to talk to an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney.

C.J. was a man ensnared in something he viewed as a checkpoint. He was driving through downtown Baltimore and, while he sat at the red light, the police initiated a traffic stop. The reason for the stop was that C.J. wasn’t wearing his seat belt. While the police performed their investigation of C.J., they discovered an outstanding warrant and a loaded handgun under the driver’s seat of the vehicle, and they arrested him.

The state charged C.J. with several weapons-related crimes, on top of driving a vehicle without wearing a seat belt. The driver asked the court to throw out the evidence of the gun, arguing that the police discovered the gun as a result of an illegal traffic checkpoint.

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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.

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