Articles Posted in Guns

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 →

Maryland takes handgun offenses seriously. As such, if you are arrested for a handgun offense, it is important to retain a good trial lawyer who can mount strong challenges to the prosecution’s evidence. A recent case illustrates the importance of presenting a strong case at trial, rather than relying on appellate procedures in the event something goes wrong.

The case arose when a man (who eventually became a victim) drove to visit his father in Baltimore City, Maryland. Later the man visited his father’s friend. A group was gathered there. While at the house, the man decided to use the computer. The defendant knocked at the front door and entered. The defendant asked the man was he was doing. The man explained he was looking at a website with girls.

The defendant sat down next to the man and asked him questions, which made him uncomfortable. Finally the man confronted him and told him to sit by the front door where he was sitting before. The defendant refused. The man threatened to beat him up. The defendant got up and calmly left. He came back, however, with a revolver, with which he threatened the man. Continue reading →

Gun violence in Baltimore has flared up. Accordingly, news that the Maryland Court of Appeals recently published a criminal law opinion that ruled in favor of a previously convicted defendant caused a big stir among city officials and the media. The Baltimore Sun published an editorial that expressed outrage that the state’s mandatory five years without parole for gun possession by convicted felons would not stand. However, in spite of the press given to this case, the ruling in this case is narrow.

In the case, a man who had a prior nonviolent conviction was arrested and charged with more than one count of possession of a regulated firearm and a statutory handgun carrying violation. The fact that the conviction was nonviolent wound up being critical in the eventual outcome of the case.

At a jury trial, the prosecution and defense stipulated he had been previously convicted of distribution of a controlled substance and that this prevented him from being permitted to possess a regulated firearm. Continue reading →

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals recently addressed two interesting questions of criminal trial procedure. The first question was what kind of crime could be used to impeach (discredit) a witness. The second question was whether a trial court is permitted to refuse a re-cross examination once new testimony is given on an issue.

The case arose in early 2010 when a woman (the defendant) asked a man for a ride home from a strip club. The man agreed and when they got to the apartment where the defendant’s cousin lived, the defendant asked him to accompany her to the apartment. She said she would go home with him, but needed to tell her cousin where she was going.

As they walked to the apartment, the defendant pulled out a handgun and asked the man for his money and keys. She shot him as he got his keys from his pocket and then drove off in his car.

After the defendant left, the man called 911 and gave the police a report. When she was apprehended, the defendant was charged with numerous crimes. At trial, she claimed she acted in self-defense because she was afraid that the man was going to sexually assault her.

During a cross-examination of the man, defense counsel tried to impeach him by introducing evidence of his prior convictions, which included assault on a police officer, threat to do bodily harm and reckless endangerment. Continue reading →

The Maryland Senate approved a gun-control bill in February that would make it the strictest gun control state in the nation. Governor Martin O’Malley proposed the bill. The key piece of the legislation (and the most controversial) is that it tightens restrictions on gun purchases by residents committed for mental health treatment.

Although O’Malley targeted just those residents committed involuntarily for mental health treatment, the Senate also banned future gun sales for those Maryland residents who undergo voluntary admissions. Specifically, patients who are admitted to a hospital to undergo an emergency psychiatric evaluation on a doctor’s recommendation, and agree to be admitted to a psychiatric facility, would be banned from buying guns. This part of the bill was added against the recommendation of mental health professionals because of its potential to increase stigma.

Maryland law currently prohibits purchases of guns by those who are found not competent to stand trial because of a mental illness, as well as those who have been committed for thirty consecutive days to an inpatient mental health facility. Maryland already limits gun purchases to one a month, conducts universal background checks, and prohibits assault pistols. Continue reading →

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