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Chances are pretty high that you’re rarely heard the phrase “statement against penal interest,” if you’ve heard it at all. Chances are also very, very high that your knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense attorney knows exactly what this is and how to use it.

A “statement against penal interest” is one of the exceptions to the general rule of evidence that says hearsay statements are not admissible at trial. That’s a big deal because if you can establish that a statement meets the criteria of this exception, you can use an otherwise inadmissible piece of evidence at trial to strengthen your defense.

An example of this kind of statement might be an ex-girlfriend who testifies, “He told me he killed that old couple.” As you can see from that example, the “statement against penal interest” exception is something that often will be used by the prosecution. Sometimes, though, as a recent case highlights, this kind of statement can be a helpful element of an accused person’s defense.

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Details matter in a criminal case, and, sometimes, even seemingly minor or trivial details may matter A LOT. Something else that matters a great deal in defending against criminal charges is pursuing all the potential areas in which you can attack the charges. That’s where having a skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney can be an invaluable help. An experienced attorney can potentially spot details you overlooked or identify potential areas of attack that you would not have thought possible.

Take, for example, the weapons charge case against H.L., a man arrested after a police chase in Elkton. At the end of the vehicle chase, H.L. crashed. He then allegedly escaped on foot and was apprehended after he fell down. The police found a weapon on the ground next to the man.

One of the charges the prosecution brought was possession of a regulated firearm. Now, most of the time, a defense against the charge of possession of a regulated firearm focuses almost entirely on demonstrating either that an affirmative defense made the defendant not guilty, or else that the facts the state proved do not support the legal standard of “possessing” the weapon in question.

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For many people accused of crimes in Maryland, the option of probation can be very beneficial. Probation may allow you to get a shorter stint behind bars… or avoid serving time in jail entirely. The key, though, is to avoid any violations of probation, as a violation may lead to your spending vastly more time in jail. There are, however, ways in which you can beat the state’s assertion that you’ve violated your probation. Doing that, though, often requires an in-depth knowledge of the law, so it is well worth your while to retain a skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney for your case.

One of the keys to winning your hearing regarding an alleged violation of probation is to win the argument about whether your violation was a “technical” one or a “non-technical” violation. It’s important because technical violations are more minor in nature and generally involve, at most, just a few days in jail. The maximum a first technical violation can get you is 15 days in jail. For a second technical violation, it’s 30 days and 45 days for a third. A non-technical violation, on the other hand, is more significant and may lead to your serving the entire portion of your sentence that the judge suspended, even if it’s your first violation.

Maryland statutory law defines a technical violation as “a violation of a condition of probation… that does not involve: (1) an arrest or a summons issued by a commissioner on a statement of charges filed by a law enforcement officer; (2) a violation of a criminal prohibition other than a minor traffic offense; (3) a violation of a no-contact or stay-away order; or (4) absconding.”

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On your favorite police-and-prosecutors procedural, you may encounter an episode where one of the attorneys intones dramatically that a particular outcome in a certain case could impact thousands of cases and lead to the reversal of hundreds of convictions. Real-life is often less dramatic. Occasionally, though, a real-life case comes along where the impact does represent a major shift in the law. When that happens, it pays to have a truly knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense attorney on your side, giving you a powerful advocate who has a completely up-to-date awareness of all of the changes in the law and knows how best to utilize them for you.

One of those “game-changer” sorts of cases happened here in Maryland in January. That month, the state’s highest court reversed a previous decision that had stood – and had governed voir dire in Maryland criminal trials – for more than 50 years.

The new rule announced in Kazadi v. State said that when an accused person’s attorney requests, the trial court must pose voir dire questions to potential jurors about their willingness and ability to follow the court’s instructions regarding the defendant’s presumption of innocence, the state’s burden of proof and the defendant’s right to decline to testify. (The 1964 decision stated that trial judges could, in their discretion, decline to pose those questions, even if the defense asked for them.)

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Back in September, the Maryland Court of Appeals made a very important ruling. Unless you read legal publications, you probably haven’t heard about it, as it didn’t make the major newspapers. The case wasn’t a big reversal of an accused person’s major conviction. In fact, it wasn’t even a criminal matter at all, but it potentially impacts a lot of criminal defendants in this state. What it does represent is a reminder that having a knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense attorney, who’s up to date on the latest developments in the law in this state, can make an enormous difference in your criminal case.

The ruling involved a civil case where a woman sued her former landlord for harm she allegedly suffered as a result of lead paint exposure. The key issue the state’s high court addressed was the correct standard for assessing whether or not evidence from an expert witness is admissible at trial. The court changed the standard that Maryland courts must use, adopting a standard created in a 1993 U.S. Supreme Court case.

The impact of that change is already being felt by people facing criminal charges in this state. A man, K.A., received a new opportunity to potentially defeat the murder charge against him. In K.A.’s trial, the state presented an expert who used a “toolmark identification” method to determine that, in his opinion, the bullets recovered from the victim’s body matched a gun recovered from K.A.

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There are so many ways that the right Maryland criminal defense attorney can help you. Not the least of these is where you encounter an uncooperative prosecutor in your case who fails to allow you to perform inspections on the evidence it has. When that happens to you, you may find yourself frustrated and asking, “Now what?” Your skilled defense counsel, on the other hand, will know what action to take to ensure you get a fair trial.

The need to inspect the state’s evidence can be relevant in a wide array of cases from drug crimes to sex crimes to homicides. For M.J., a man from Montgomery County, the charges in his trial included altering evidence and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.

The evidence to which M.J. sought access was roughly 5.9 grams of a “white powdery substance” found in the backseat of M.J.’s truck. The police lab tested the substance and concluded that it contained cocaine.

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“Ex post facto” is a phrase that often gets overused… and misused. Many people may recall learning about ex post facto laws in junior high or high school civics and government classes, but may not really understand what the phrase truly means. Unskilled “jailhouse lawyers” often apply it incorrectly in appeals they file. On the other hand, a valid ex post facto argument, when in the hands of a skillful Maryland criminal defense attorney, can be a powerful constitutional claim in your criminal case.

To get an idea what a valid ex post facto situation looks like, there’s the case of E.H. from Prince George’s County. In 2011, E.H. was convicted of first-degree assault and weapons charges. He received a sentence of 25 years.

Under Section 8-507 of Maryland’s Health General Article, the inmate had, at that time, an “essentially unrestricted right” to seek commitment to the Department of Health for substance abuse treatment. In December 2017, E.H. applied for such a commitment. The judge denied the man’s request, but told him to try back in about a year. “I fully intend to grant this petition at some point,” the judge said from the bench.

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Police many times strive to create situations in which they can conduct a search of your vehicle in order to obtain additional evidence… and possibly additional charges. The problem for the police is that they cannot search just anyone’s car. They need either to have a search warrant for that car or they need to have probable cause to conduct a warrantless search. A great deal of evidence is often unearthed through the execution of warrantless searches and, a lot of times, those searches are the result of insufficient probable cause. When that happens, you need the right Maryland criminal defense attorney on your side to get that evidence suppressed at trial.

O.W. was someone caught in a warrantless search scenario like that. In early 2019, Anne Arundel County police sought to arrest him on an open arrest warrant. The police apprehended the man at a Glen Burnie car wash. After the police took the man into custody, they searched the vehicle he drove to the car wash. The police found a handgun lying on the seat underneath a jacket. That gun led the police to add an additional weapons charge against O.W.

O.W. faced several complications in seeking to get the gun evidence excluded from his case. For one thing, the car wasn’t legally his, a fact that the state pointed out in its argument against suppression of the gun evidence. O.W.’s girlfriend had leased the vehicle and the lease had expired the day before the police apprehended the man.

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Here in Maryland, our state constitution and the U.S. constitution give everyone certain rights. As you may already know, especially if you watch all of those TV police shows, you have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer the police’s questions. What happens, though, when you’re advised of your rights in a language that is not your native one? Depending on the exact circumstances, this evidence may be critical in getting certain incriminating statements you made to the police excluded from your trial. Whether or not you speak English, make sure you have someone ready to speak for you. In other words, be sure you have the services of a skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney.

J.S. was one of those people where a language barrier was an issue. In J.S.’s criminal case, the police found drugs inside the man’s home. They charged J.S. with possession of cocaine and other related crimes.

The police transported J.S. to the station house, where a detective questioned him. During that interrogation, J.S. stated with regard to the drugs: “It’s only my problem. My wife is nothing to do with it.”

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Being falsely accused of a sex crime can be an enormously terrifying experience, especially if the alleged victim was a child. There can be many reasons why this might happen, from a vindictive ex-spouse seeking to gain an advantage in family court to an over-zealous therapist suggesting a repressed memory that wasn’t real to a rebellious, troubled stepchild acting out against discipline. Whatever the specifics of how you got charged, the penalties are potentially severe and life-changing, so you need to be sure you have strong representation from a skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney.

There are several situations in which you can bring in evidence of your own good character into your criminal trial. For example, if you were on trial for a crime that involved fraud, lying or deception, you could put on proof that you had a reputation for truthfulness and honesty. However, what if you’re on trial for a child sex crime… can you use evidence of your past history of always conducting yourself appropriately around children? According to a recent Court of Appeals decision, yes, you can.

The defendant in that Court of Appeals case was a male teacher who allegedly sexually abused several female students. As part of his defense, the teacher sought to present testimony from other teachers and from parents of students. Those individuals’ testimony would all state that the defendant was a man who was frequently around children and who “behaves appropriately with children in his custody or care.”

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