Articles Posted in Jury Instructions

There’s so much minutia that goes into a truly proper and complete defense in a criminal case. Whatever the alleged crime, but especially if that crime is a major felony, a conviction has the potential to drastically alter your life for the worse. Don’t leave your future to chance; make sure that you have the right Maryland criminal defense lawyer on your side to protect you to the maximum extent possible under the law.

An attempted murder case from Baltimore is a good example of just how much procedural details may matter. The victim, E.T., was playing dice in Baltimore when he got into an argument with another man. After E.T. punched the man, that man left but returned one minute later, whereupon he chased and shot E.T., critically wounding him. Immediately after shooting E.T., the shooter fled. All of this was recorded on nearby video camera footage.

The state charged D.W. with the shooting, putting him on trial for attempted first-degree murder. D.W.’s defense was a straightforward one: he wasn’t the shooter. The prosecution asked the trial judge to give the jury an instruction on “flight.”

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Television has a major impact on how many people view the world, including the world of criminal justice. Of course, police procedural TV shows represent creative minds’ artistic interpretation of a crime scene investigation, a police interrogation, or a criminal trial. While that’s true, there still may be opportunities to use certain knowledge jurors have absorbed from TV shows to create reasonable doubt in your criminal trial. As with any aspect of your defense, a skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney can help you advance your case in the most effective way possible.

One of the more influential shows of the last few decades is “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” and its spinoffs. In the “CSI” shows, the stars often solve cases and identify wrongdoers through fingerprints, DNA, and other forensic evidence.

Sometimes, in a Maryland criminal trial, the prosecution’s case against the defendant may have a noticeable absence of “forensic or scientific techniques often featured in police procedural television shows.” This absence may, of course, allow the defense to plant seeds of doubt in the minds of the jurors about the strength of the state’s case. To combat this, Maryland law allows trial judges to issue what’s called “anti-CSI effect” jury instructions.

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Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is a British author best known for writing the stories of detective Sherlock Holmes. In the 1891 story, A Case of Identity, Holmes opined that “it has long been an axiom of mine, that the little things are infinitely the most important.” Any good Maryland criminal defense attorney will immediately recognize the wisdom in the fictional Holmes’s observation. In criminal cases, the difference between an acquittal and a conviction may rest upon the ability to spot all the little things, and then use them to the client’s maximum benefit.

For example, take the case of E.B. from Baltimore. The accused man was on trial for burglary and theft. At the end of the trial, E.B. was found guilty of fourth-degree burglary. E.B. got that conviction overturned, and “the little things” were a big reason why.

When you are put on trial for a crime in this state, there is always something that came before that trial. That “something” is either a warrantless arrest, an application for a statement of charges, a charging document or an indictment by a grand jury. Whichever occurred in your case, that’s where you can find out exactly what criminal charge the state is pursuing.

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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.

In science, there exists something called the “butterfly effect.” The butterfly effect involves circumstances in which a small change in an initial state can result in massive difference in a later state. The concept got its name from scientists who asked the question: can a massive storm in one part of the world be traced back to a butterfly flapping its wings in another corner of the globe? In other words, sometimes very small distinctions or differences can, in the long run, have dramatic impacts on future outcomes. That’s true in the law, too, where very seemingly small things can sometimes be the difference between acquittal and conviction, which is why it pays to have a knowledgeable Maryland criminal attorney on your side for your defense.

Consider a man named C.W. C.W. was facing a very serious felony charge when he stood trial in Montgomery County. In order to obtain a conviction, the state had to show that C.W. inflicted “severe physical injury” on his alleged victim. In Maryland, the law defines severe physical injury as “a physical injury that either “creates a substantial risk of death” or “causes permanent or protracted serious disfigurement, loss of the function of any bodily member or organ, or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ.”

At the end of C.W.’s trial, the judge gave the jury its instructions. The judge, following a “pattern” jury instruction, informed the jury that they should convict if the prosecution sufficiently showed that the alleged victim suffered an injury with a substantial risk of death, that caused “permanent or protracted serious disfigurement,” or “causes loss or impairment of a member or organ of the body or its ability to function properly.”

As a defendant in a criminal trial, you have the right to testify or to forego testifying. You also have the right to call the witnesses whom you want and refrain from calling witnesses whom you don’t want on the stand. All of these decisions are made based upon carefully considering the overall strategic “pluses” and “minuses” of each choice. However, what happens when someone who seems like a key witness for the defense is never called to the stand? In some situations, a judge can instruct the jury to infer that the non-testifying non-witness would have given testimony harmful to the defense had she taken the stand. The set of circumstances in which a judge can give this jury instruction is extremely narrow, though, and improperly giving such an instruction can result in a reversal of any conviction. When it comes to all of these strategic trial choices, it pays to have a knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense attorney representing you.

In one recent case from Baltimore, the judge did give that instruction, and the giving of the instruction allowed the defendant to obtain a reversal of his conviction. The man on trial was Jerry, who stood accused of several crimes related to a home break-in and robbery. There was actually very little evidence tying Jerry to the crimes. The only thing the state had was latent fingerprint evidence on pill bottles found at the home that matched fingerprints on file for Jerry.

Jerry testified in the trial. He asserted that he wasn’t involved and had not been at the scene of the crimes. Jerry asserted that, at the time that the crimes took place, he was at home with his mother. In the defense opening statement, Jerry’s attorney stated that the mother would testify and would state that Jerry was at home with her. Jerry’s mom, however, did not testify for the defense.

There are several different ways that a defendant can be convicted of murder in Maryland. One of these is for the state to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused committed intentional murder. An alternative avenue does not require the state to prove this level of intent. It only requires that the prosecution show that the accused intended to commit another crime and that a death occurred in the process of that activity. This is called “felony murder.” There are ways to defend against a charge of felony murder, some of which involve utilizing a detailed knowledge of the law. This is yet another example of how your case can benefit from the skills of a knowledgeable Maryland homicide defense attorney.

One recent case involved a defendant, Sean, who was facing a felony murder charge. The death took place after the end of a party at the home of a man named Charles. Charles, TJ, Gary, Sean, and Chucky had been partaking of drugs and alcohol at the party. After the party ended, a dispute occurred between Chucky and Sean regarding a bag of cocaine. That dispute eventually led to a shooting outside Sean’s home.

Some time later, Sean brought Chucky to a fire station. Chucky had a gunshot wound to the temple. The volunteer fire fighters tried to save Chucky’s life, but they were not successful.

A new ruling from the Maryland Court of Appeals is a very important one regarding how battered spouse syndrome can affect and bolster a criminal defendant’s defense. In the ruling, the court concluded that the law of imperfect self-defense requires a belief that the threat was immediate or imminent, but the requirement of imminence does not require proof of closeness in terms of time. In other words, the battered wife on trial did not need to prove that she feared that her husband was going to kill her immediately in order to obtain a jury instruction on imperfect self-defense in her Maryland criminal trial.

The case arose from what law enforcement initially thought was a robbery-gone-wrong incident. Ultimately, police concluded that no robbery took place and that the shooting at the gas station was part of a wife’s murder-for-hire plot to kill her husband. At trial, the wife testified that she did, in fact, hire various individuals for the purpose of killing her husband. She testified that she did so because the husband had abused her for decades, and she had come to fear that, if she didn’t kill him, he would kill her. The wife offered multiple witnesses to back up her claim, including a forensic psychiatrist, who opined that the wife suffered from battered spouse syndrome.

At the conclusion of the case, the two sides debated the proper instruction to give the jury regarding self-defense. The trial judge ultimately gave the jury the instruction proposed by the prosecution. After deliberation, the jury found the wife guilty of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, and three counts of solicitation to commit first-degree murder.

In a Maryland criminal trial, the State must prove the elements of the crime of which the defendant is accused “beyond a reasonable doubt.” A significant aspect of this part of a case involves jury instructions. The judge is legally obligated to give the jury instructions on the elements of the crime (or crimes) for which a person is being tried. These instructions must adhere to local state law, or the ultimate conviction could be overturned. This is just one way a person charged or convicted of a crime may seek legal recourse. To learn more about your rights in a criminal case, it is important to consult with an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney.

The defendant in a recent Maryland case challenged his conviction of involuntary manslaughter, assault in the second degree, reckless endangerment, and affray, claiming (among other things) that the circuit court committed error in instructing the jury on the crime of “affray.” Affray is legally defined as “the fighting together of two or more persons, either by mutual consent or otherwise, in some public place, to the terror of the people.”

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In 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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