December 2010 Archives

December 30, 2010

Anne Arundel County Police Effectively Use Surveillance Video

Police in Anne Arundel County, Maryland have charged two individuals with first-degree murder in the case of an August 9, 2010 shooting that occurred during a robbery at a Glen Burnie 7-Eleven store. Although the surveillance video was not central to the arrest of the suspects, which occurred following an unrelated shooting at a local Mr. Wings & Pizza, the video is being used to seek a third suspect.

Maryland police often rely on surveillance video in their efforts to reduce crime, including Baltimore's controversial "blue light cameras," of which there are more than 500, speeding and red light cameras, which are becoming more prevalent on Maryland roads, and security cameras from local businesses. Often, these cameras present serious evidentiary issues in criminal cases, and sometimes the use of video improperly obtained by the police can violate an individual's Constitutional rights. An experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney is essential to protect all of the rights of a criminal defendant.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals has found that video of a person in a public place generally does not intrude on an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy. In contrast, however, the Maryland Court of Appeals has found that warrantless video surveillance inside a person's home does violate an individual's Fourth Amendment rights. Regardless of how video evidence has been obtained, such evidence can be the deciding factor in a criminal case. Without the aid of an experienced Maryland criminal defense lawyer who has developed a keen understanding of Maryland rules of evidence, a criminal defendant often faces an unfair, unwinnable fight in the courts.

An interesting use of surveillance video by police occurred this month in New York. On December 22nd, a woman's body was found in a suitcase in East Harlem. The police scoured local surveillance video and came across the following video which eventually led to a suspect's arrest in the case.

December 21, 2010

Maryland Court of Appeals Extends Defendant's Evidentiary Rights

MDCorrectionalAdjustmentCenter_Borea.jpg The Maryland Court of Appeals this month extended the right to a "missing evidence" jury instruction to criminal defendants, even absent a showing of bad faith by the State, in a decision that could have long-reaching effects on evidence practice in criminal cases in the state.

Brassel, Alexander & Rice has significant experience in addressing evidentiary issues in criminal trials, including the insight of two former prosecutors. Our Maryland criminal law attorneys can protect the rights of individuals accused in any criminal matter.

The Court of Appeals' decision came in the case of Ashanti Cost v. State, a case in which an inmate being held at the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center, a Supermax facility in Baltimore, was charged with stabbing another inmate. According to the State's case, Cost, the defendant, grabbed the another inmate's clothing through a food slot in a cell door, pulled the other inmate close, and then stabbed him with a six-inch long metal weapon that was similar to an ice pick. Michael Brown, the inmate Cost allegedly stabbed, testified that he bled all over his cell, covering the floor with blood and requiring towels to stop the bleeding. The State initially secured Brown's cell and took photographs, but then allowed it to be cleaned. All of the potential evidence in the cell was discarded.

At trial, Cost presented an argument, supported by Brown's medical records, that the injury was not severe. He suggested to the jury that the photographs of Brown's cell did not actually show a floor coated with blood, but rather, melted red Jell-O. Based on the fact that the State had destroyed any evidence that was in the cell, Cost requested that the trial court give the jury an instruction that it was allowed but not required to infer that the missing evidence would be favorable to the defense. Cost's request was denied, and although he was acquitted on most counts, he was found guilty of reckless endangerment.

Cost appealed, arguing that the missing evidence was vital to his case, and that he should be entitled to a missing evidence jury instruction, just as the State would have been entitled to had it been Cost that had destroyed evidence. The State countered that, under the United States Supreme Court's holding in Youngblood v. Arizona, that because there was no evidence of bad faith on the part of the State, such an instruction was not warranted. The Court held that Cost was entitled to a jury instruction on missing evidence. The evidence, according to the Court, was highly relevant to Cost's case, and was not cumulative or tangential. Under these circumstances, the Court held, a trial court judge is required to provide an instruction to the jury that the jury was permitted, but not required, to draw an inference that the missing evidence would have been unfavorable to the State.

The Court's finding could have long-ranging effects in Maryland's trial courts, as it is applied in other settings. For example, crime labs in Maryland and other states have at times lost or destroyed DNA evidence; under the holding in Cost, if the missing evidence is central to the case, a defendant would be entitled to a missing evidence instruction. The future development of this line of caselaw could have a major impact on criminal trials throughout Maryland, as the State is finally held on equal footing with criminal defendants when it comes to the preservation of evidence.

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