March 2011 Archives

March 31, 2011

Maryland Defense Counsel Must Disclose Alibi Witnesses

alibi.jpgIn McLennan v. State, the Maryland Court of Appeals upheld a circuit court's decision to bar a defendant's use of two alibi witnesses because defense counsel did not provide notice to the State of the required witness under the time requirements of the Maryland Rules. The Rules note a distinction between a defendant's impeachment witnesses and his or her alibi witnesses, and require disclosure of alibi witnesses at least 30 days prior to trial.

As many defendants learn too late in the process, the failure to comply with the Maryland Rules of Criminal Procedure, especially with regard to discovery issues, can bar the defendant from presenting a defense, even if that defense would completely exonerate the accused. Obtaining the services of a Maryland criminal defense attorney that is experienced in the intricacies of the rules of criminal procedure should be the first step for any individual accused of a crime.

In McLennan, the defendant was accused of robbing a pizza deliveryman, and then leaving the scene in a truck driven by a co-defendant. On the day of trial, the defendant learned of two witnesses that could support his claims of innocence by describing where the defendant was before the crime allegedly occurred. Defense counsel informed the Court that the two witnesses would be called, but the Court determined that the witnesses were alibi witnesses, and held that because the rules governing discovery of alibi witnesses were not followed, the witnesses would not be permitted to testify.

The Court of Appeals adopted the Alaska Supreme Court's definition of an alibi witness, holding that "an 'alibi' witness as a witness whose testimony "must tend to prove that it was impossible or highly improbable that [the defendant] was at the scene of the crime when it was alleged to have occurred.'" The Court, in noting that the Maryland Rules lays out a particular procedure for alibi witnesses, rules that the defendant was not denied a fair trial by the circuit court's decision to exclude the witnesses.

In order to present the strongest defense possible to a judge or jury, it is essential to have experienced Maryland criminal defense counsel on the job early. An experienced defense counsel can both to fully investigate the case to determine what possible evidence - alibi or otherwise - might be available for a defense, and to ensure compliance with the Maryland Rules so that client can use every potential defense available.

March 15, 2011

"Reach-in" Strip Searches OK in Maryland if Reasonable

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled last month that "reach-in" strip searches by the police were not a violation of a suspect's rights, if the searches were reasonable in scope, manner, and place, and the initiation of the search was justified. The holding permitted the introduction of evidence of the defendants' drug possession, which had been obtained when the police reached into the defendants' boxers on a public street and removed baggies containing drugs from the defendants' buttocks.

The nature of a police search of an individual's body by necessity involves questions of privacy and an individual's Constitutional rights. When these rights are implicated, the services of an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney is vital to ensuring that those rights are protected.

The Court cited a holding by the United States Supreme Court, which set out four reasonableness factors for consideration, as the standard for determining whether a strip search incident to arrest violated the Fourth Amendment:

The test of reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment is not capable of precise definition or mechanical application. In each case it requires a balancing of the need for the particular search against the invasion of personal rights that the search entails. Courts must consider the scope of the particular intrusion, the manner in which it is conducted, the justification for initiating it, and the place in which it is conducted.

Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 559 (1979).

The Court concluded with regard for the justification factor that "when a person is arrested for drug dealing, the nature of the offense provides reasonable suspicion to believe that the arrestee is concealing drugs on his or her person." The manner of the search was reasonable because the police merely pulled the defendants' boxers away from their bodies, rather than fully exposing the "private areas" of the defendants' bodies to the public. For the same reason, the scope of the search was reasonable. The location was reasonable, because, despite being on a public street, there were no civilians present at the time of the search who could observe what was going on.

In practice, the police are frequently given a lot of leeway in their determinations of what is "reasonable," and arguing to suppress evidence based on the unreasonableness of a search is often an uphill battle for a criminal defendant. The evaluation and presentation of each of these four factors by an attorney that is experienced in representing criminal defendants in Maryland criminal courts can be the difference between winning and losing a case.