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Crawl spaceWhen you stand accused of a crime, there are several things that the prosecution must do. One of these things is proving, beyond a reasonable doubt, each element of the criminal charges against you. In the case of one recently evicted man in Ocean City, that standard worked in his favor in his fourth-degree burglary case. Since the state lacked sufficient evidence that the man broke into a crawl space, as opposed to merely walking into an open crawl space, the Court of Special Appeals determined that the case against the man was insufficient, and he was entitled to an acquittal on the burglary charge.

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gavelThere are a great many things that can be changed or altered in a criminal case. The prosecution and the defense can ask the court to amend or reverse many decisions made previously. One situation in which that isn’t true is a judgment of acquittal for insufficient evidence. Once the judge in your case makes that decision, it is the equivalent of a “not guilty” verdict, and the Constitution’s prohibition against double jeopardy means that you can no longer be convicted of that crime. This hard-and-fast rule proved to be the key to a Maryland man escaping an assault charge for an altercation at a Prince George’s County supermarket, as decided recently by the Court of Special Appeals.

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Police VehicleThere are many risks that a driver assumes when he or she decides to escape from pursuing police officers. One of these risks is the potential of committing more crimes by harming innocent bystanders. While one might face certain charges if one hits a bystander, the law does not allow the state to charge attempted murder when the proof in the case shows that the driver was motivated by a specific intent to outrun the police, rather than to kill the bystander. In one recent case originating from Dorchester County, that’s what happened and what led the Maryland Court of Appeals to throw out an attempted murder conviction.

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Unrolled jointWhen the General Assembly passes new laws that affect the criminal statutes, those changes can potentially have wide-ranging effects. As one example, the legislature’s law decriminalizing small (<10 grams) quantities of marijuana has led some to question whether a law enforcement officer can still conduct a warrantless search based upon no more probable cause than the mere perception of the smell of marijuana. While the Court of Special Appeals had generally upheld searches based upon detecting the odor of marijuana, even after the law took effect, the Court of Appeals has taken up the issue, hearing oral arguments on a case contesting the convictions of three men convicted under these circumstances.

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DNA Double HelixWhen you or a loved one is facing criminal charges, there are many vitally important choices to make. Do you take your chances and go to trial? Do you plead guilty? Do you make some other sort of plea, such as an Alford plea? In one recent case before the Maryland Court of Appeals, the high court concluded that a man’s Alford plea functioned similarly to a guilty plea and prevented him from requesting DNA testing on newly discovered evidence.

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Trials and court hearings, in some ways, can be like sporting competitions. Both litigation and sports have their own sets of rules. Some of these rules may seem excessively technical and unnecessary, but they are the rules, and you overlook them at your peril. For example, the rules of civil cases say that generally, if you want the judge to order a particular outcome, you must expressly ask for it in your court pleading documents (meaning your complaint if you are the petitioner or your answer or counter-complaint if you are the respondent.) In the case of one Maryland husband, his failure to follow this rule cost him the opportunity to obtain his part of the marital portion of his wife’s retirement benefits, according to Court of Special Appeals decision.

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Witness standAnyone who’s watched enough episodes of the courtroom procedural shows on television has inevitably seen it at some point:  the episode in which the prosecution’s star expert witness is, at some point, exposed as having lied on the witness stand. This situation of expert witnesses lying on the stand does occur in real life, and, when it does, it is important to understand what that means for a criminal case in Maryland. The state’s Court of Appeals recently ruled that, when a defendant discovers after a trial’s end that one of the state’s experts lied about his credentials, the trial court must analyze what the jury would have done had they known that the expert lied, rather than simply analyze what the jury would have done if they’d never heard the falsehoods.

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handshakeCriminal cases involve a great deal of knowledge:  knowledge of the facts of the case, of the relevant laws, and of trial strategy. In some cases, making agreements with the prosecution and concessions in court can be beneficial to the overall advancement of your interests. In other cases, though, such choices can harm you if you want to contest those issues at a later point. A woman convicted of burglary found the Court of Special Appeals unwilling to hear her sufficiency-of-the-evidence arguments on appeal because the actions she’d taken in the trial court created a waiver of her right to advance this argument.

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traffic stopA man who was convicted of a drug crime took his case all the way to Maryland’s highest court to seek a reversal of his conviction. In this man’s case, the problem with the state’s case was that the prosecution lacked clear proof that the marijuana-odor evidence that was at the heart of its case was obtained through a legal police search. In cases in which the evidence is unclear regarding whether a police search was legal or an illegal Fourth Amendment violation, the court must resolve that uncertainty in favor of the accused person.

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JuryWhen you are facing a criminal trial, the U.S. and Maryland constitutions give you certain clear rights. One of these is the right to be present at your trial. When a court violates your rights, the law may give you certain options as a result of this constitutional violation. In the case of one man arrested in Montgomery County, a judge’s decision to declare a mistrial on a drug charge while the man was involuntarily away from court due to a medical emergency resulted in jeopardy attaching. This meant that the man’s constitutional protection against double jeopardy prevented him from facing another trial on that charge, according to a recent Maryland Court of Appeals ruling.

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