In a criminal case, the difference between success and defeat can sometimes be something clear-cut, like a corroborated alibi. Often, though, a successful defense can be a result of something that might seem, to a layperson, to be small. An example of that occurred recently, when a man arrested and tried in Charles County got his conviction reversed because the crime for which the state convicted him was not the same crime that the state charged in the man’s indictment.
Voir dire, the process by which prospective jurors are questioned and examined to determine whether grounds for disqualification exist, is a significant part of any jury trial. Most states, like Maryland, have rules that govern this phase of a criminal trial in order to ensure that a fair and impartial jury is ultimately impaneled in accordance with the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution. When a court finds error during this segment of a criminal prosecution, any ultimate conviction may be overturned. For this reason alone, if you have been arrested or charged with a crime, it is vitally important to protect your legal rights as vigorously as possible. An experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney could evaluate your case with an eye to preparing the best possible defense under the circumstances.
In a recent criminal case, the defendant was charged with illegal possession of a regulated firearm and later convicted after a jury trial. The defendant appealed the conviction, raising several arguments, including whether the trial court erred in refusing to ask, during voir dire, the “police witness” questions. In this case, the defendant’s counsel submitted certain voir dire questions to be asked of the prospective jurors. Included among these items were two questions relating to police officer testimony. It is important to take note that most of the evidence presented in this case against the defendant was comprised of police officer testimony.
Essentially, counsel requested that the judge ask the prospective jurors whether they would be more or less likely to believe a police officer or deputy solely because he is an officer or deputy, and whether they would be more likely to believe the testimony of a police officer or deputy as opposed to the accused. The trial court failed to ask these two questions, and at the conclusion of the questions for the whole jury pool, the judge asked defense counsel and the prosecution if they had any issues to address. Defense counsel responded “no.” Later, during additional questioning of the remaining potential jurors (prior to the selection of a panel), the defendant’s counsel requested that the police witness questions be asked. The trial court denied the request.
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.
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 →
Jury selection is a critically important aspect of a criminal trial. This phase is also referred to as “voir dire” – the point at which counsel for both the State and the defendant have an opportunity to ask the potential jurors questions in order to determine whether an individual exhibits a possible bias against either side. The law seeks to protect against such an unfair situation by affording both sides certain rights. In fact, a criminal defendant is entitled to a variety of protections under the law throughout the proceedings. If you have been arrested or charged with a crime, it is important to understand your rights and the potential defenses available under the circumstances. You are encouraged to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
If jury selection is not handled in accordance with Maryland law, any resulting criminal conviction could be overturned. In a recent case, Smith v. State, the defendant’s counsel asked the circuit court to include this mandatory Defense-Witness question to the jury: “Is there any member of the panel who would be less likely to believe a witness simply because they were called by the defense?” The purpose of this question is to identify jurors who might have a bias against defense witnesses. Under Maryland law, if a question for a jury panel refers to a specific cause for disqualification, that question must be asked. The failure to ask is considered an abuse of discretion on behalf of the court.
As it turned out, the trial court failed to ask the question during voir dire. Defendant’s counsel expressly challenged the omission of the Defense-Witness question. Under Maryland Rule 4-323(c), the objector need only make its objections known to the court in order to preserve the objection. However, the trial court agreed with the State’s mistaken assumption that the Defense-Witness question was covered by a question already asked by the defendant’s counsel. At that point, defendant’s counsel did not correct the judge’s statement. A trial was held, and the defendant was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and use of a handgun in the commission of a felony. The defendant appealed, arguing that the failure to ask the mandatory Defense-Witness question required a reversal of his convictions. Continue reading →
Criminal cases vary a great deal, from the moment when a person is arrested and charges are filed to the conclusion of a jury trial or plea bargain. Under Maryland law, criminal defendants are typically afforded the right to a trial by jury. With this right come certain rules and procedures that govern court-issued “jury instructions.” Such instructions help a jury decide if they believe a defendant is guilty or innocent. The prosecution and defense often request that certain instructions be submitted to the jury, depending on the facts and circumstances surrounding a case.
In criminal cases, Maryland Rule 4-325 provides: “The court may, and at the request of any party shall, instruct the jury as to the applicable law and the extent to which the instructions are binding. The court may give its instructions orally or, with the consent of the parties, in writing instead of orally. The court need not grant a requested instruction if the matter is fairly covered by instructions actually given.” In a recent criminal case, the defendant appealed a conviction of first-degree murder (among other things), arguing that the court abused its discretion by failing to give a “witness promised benefit” jury instruction. This instruction would advise the jury that it may consider the testimony of a witness, who provided evidence for the state, “as a result of” an “expectation of a benefit,” but such testimony is to be considered “with caution” because it may have been influenced by the witness’ hope to gain the benefit.
Here, one of the two witnesses to the shooting testified that she heard gunshots and then saw the victim lying on her porch steps outside the house, and the defendant heading to his car. She and the other witness both identified the defendant in a photo array. The defendant’s attorney argued that this witness cooperated with the State only because the authorities agreed to move her to free, protective housing for several months. The court declined counsel’s request to give the jury the “witness promised benefit” instruction. During closing arguments, the defense counsel failed to mention that the witness provided evidence to the state because she received free, protective housing, and that such testimony might be less credible due to this benefit. Continue reading →
In a recent Maryland case, a criminal defendant had fired a rifle towards his ex-girlfriend in a parking garage. She was hiding behind her car. The defendant had moved into his girlfriend’s apartment complex in Bethesda. She wanted to take things more slowly, but he took an apartment in the floor above hers in the same building. He was disappointed by the fact that she didn’t help him move in, and she was not happy about how fast things were progressing. She broke up with him shortly thereafter.
A few nights after that, the defendant saw the victim leaving her place with a male friend. He texted her. He came to her apartment around midnight when she and the friend came back. He didn’t get that she had broken up with him and stayed in the hallway even after they were done talking. She was scared to be alone, so the friend stayed and the defendant texted her through the night.
The victim found that somebody had vandalized her car the night before. The police responded to the call and advised her to get a no-contact order against the defendant. The defendant asked her to withdraw the no-contact order and continued to text her. Continue reading →
A recent case involved murder, assault, and the use of a handgun in a violent crime. The defendant was sentenced to 53 years of incarceration. The victim was shot outside his home as he was coming back from church with his wife. He survived and at trial identified the defendant as the person who shot him.
The defendant had a child with the victim’s daughter. The State presented a theory that the defendant shot the victim because he blamed him for an adverse custody determination. Before trial started, the defendant’s attorney submitted proposed questions for voir dire. Voir dire is the process by which a jury is selected.
One of the proposed questions referred to the fact that the defendant was African-American and asked the juror to answer whether that fact would impact his or her ability to be fair and impartial. There were 72 prospective jurors. Continue reading →
A person convicted of a crime may file a petition for writ of actual innocence if there is newly discovered evidence that (1) creates a substantial possibility of a different result and (2) could not have been discovered in time to move for a new trial. The petitioner is entitled to a hearing on the merits when asking for this type of relief.
In a recent case a defendant challenged his conviction in connection with an attempted armed robbery. The case arose from 2-3 hours of ethnic conflict between a group of Hispanic American victims and a group of African American men. The victims were sitting in front of an apartment drinking beer, when the African American group confronted them. The Hispanic American group went inside and the African American men knocked to try to get in.
About a half hour later, the Hispanic American group went outside but encountered the African American group inside. The former went back inside and this time, the African American group tried to get inside. When the Hispanic Americans went outside again, the African American group once again confronted them. Though they all tried to get away, one of the men got shot. The wound was fatal. Continue reading →
Although Zimmerman was acquitted, the Trayvon Martin shooting is continuing to have a significant impact on lawmakers. By now most Maryland residents have heard of controversial “Stand Your Ground” laws in connection with George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the Trayvon Martin killing in Florida.
“Stand your ground” is one of four legal concepts related to self-defense. The other three are “Duty to retreat,” “castle doctrine,” and “self-defense.” The last of these is designed to protect an innocent person who is attacked—it is what was applied to the Trayvon Martin case, even though “stand your ground” was associated with the case. The castle doctrine is like self-defense, but it only applies to home, place of work, vehicle and real property.
The state of Maryland follows the “duty to retreat” law. A “duty to retreat” means that someone who might be being attacked cannot resort to deadly force or self-defense if it is possible to safely avoid the harm. Continue reading →