How Misconduct By the Police Who Arrested You May Get Your Maryland Conviction Vacated, Even if the Misconduct Was Unrelated to Your Case

There are actually several different ways that your Maryland criminal conviction can be tossed and, believe it or not, some of them may start with an action taken by prosecutors. Sometimes, after you’ve been tried and sentenced, prosecutors may discover evidence that has a clear connection to you and is adverse to the state’s case against you. They may file a request to have the court vacate your conviction. Is that surprising? What may be even more surprising to you is that, even when this happens, you still need to be sure that you have a skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney working for you. You see, just because the state asks to have the conviction vacated doesn’t automatically mean the judge automatically will vacate your conviction.

So, you may be wondering, “how does this whole process work?” A recent drug case is a good illustration. In that case, Baltimore police officers executed a search warrant on April 1, 2016. After they completed their search, they arrested A.W. The state charged A.W. with an array of crimes, including cocaine charges, heroin charges, drug paraphernalia charges, conspiracy, and assault.

The accused man eventually pled guilty to one charge of possession with intent to distribute heroin.

Sometimes, prosecutors are legally obligated to hand over certain information adverse to the state. Other times, a prosecutor may do so because he/she feels ethically duty-bound as an attorney and as “an officer of the court” to make this disclosure.

In this case, the evidence was substantial misconduct (in an unrelated case) by a police detective who was prominently involved in the execution of the April 2016 search warrant and who testified for the prosecution in A.W.’s case.

More than three years after A.W.’s conviction, prosecutors learned that this detective had planted evidence in a 2014 case. It is worth noting that not all misconduct like this will trigger a reversal of your conviction. The misconduct must be something that calls “into question the integrity” of your conviction, but when a police detective who was centrally involved in obtaining the evidence used to convict you has a history of planting evidence, that’s usually going to clear this hurdle.

In that 2014 case, a sergeant working with the detective had deliberately run over an arrestee. The detective had provided the BB gun they planted at the scene to make the sergeant’s actions appear justified, according to the state.

The prosecutors didn’t learn about the detective’s misconduct until September 2019. When they did, they filed a Section 8-301.1 motion, which is something the state can pursue when there was newly discovered evidence that calls into question the integrity of the conviction and when the “interest of justice and fairness” indicate a need for reversing the conviction.

The facts in A.W.’s situation clearly met that “integrity of the conviction” standard. The detective was involved in handling the evidence that led to A.W.’s conviction. The detective’s misconduct involved the handling of evidence in other cases and was egregious enough to constitute a crime. That detective’s testimony in A.W.’s case was essential to establishing a “chain of custody,” which was a vital part of the prosecution of A.W.

Despite this proof, the trial court rejected the state’s motion. That forced A.W.’s legal representation to step in and file an appeal. That appeal was successful. As the appeals court summed it up, “we cannot see how the new evidence wouldn’t affect the integrity of this conviction.” (emphasis added)

When that happens, a reversal of a conviction is proper, which is what A.W. got in this case.

This case can tell us a lot of things. One lesson from it is that almost nothing in criminal court is automatic. Sometimes the prosecutors may ask the court to toss a defendant’s conviction… and the judge may still say no.

Never assume anything and always be prepared. Part of that preparation means having the right attorney on your side. Look to the skilled drug crime defense attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC to give you the powerful defense representation you deserve. To learn more, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

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