June 2011 Archives

June 29, 2011

Supreme Court Protects a Defendant's Right to Cross Examine Witnesses

The Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment to United States Constitution requires that "[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right...to be confronted with the witnesses against him...." With it's decision last week in Bullcoming v. New Mexico, the Supreme Court strengthened the Confrontation Clause when it ruled that a criminal defendant has the right to cross examine the actual analyst who performed crime lab testing on evidence in the case, rather than a surrogate witness.

The effect of cross examining the State's witnesses can make or break a defendant's case. Whether the issue is cross examining the analyst who read the defendant's breathalyzer results in a drunk driving case, or asking questions of the individual who analyzed DNA samples from the crime scene in a murder case, cross examination is the defense's most effective tool. A Maryland criminal defense attorney experienced at using cross examination effectively can be the central factor to whether a criminal defendant is convicted or acquitted of the charges he or she faces.

In the New Mexico case, the defendant, Donald Bullcoming, was found guilty at trial of driving while intoxicated. The focus of the prosecution's case was a crime lab report which showed that his blood-alcohol level was above New Mexico's legal limit for driving. The prosecution in the Bullcoming case called an analyst to testify about the results of the lab test which showed Bullcoming's blood-alcohol content, but called a different analyst than the analyst who actually performed the analysis.

The Supreme Court said that the substitute analyst was not sufficient under its prior holding in Crawford v. Washington. In the courtroom, evidence typically must be submitted through a witness with personal knowledge of the substance of the evidence. Then, the defense must be given the opportunity to cross examine that witness. Justice Ginsberg, writing for the Court, stated that "[t]he Sixth Amendment does not tolerate dispensing with confrontation simply because a court believes that questioning one witness about another's testimonial statements provides a fair enough opportunity for cross-examination."

The importance of a defense attorney that is experienced in the local criminal courtrooms cannot be overstated. Our Maryland criminal defense attorneys, including two former State's Attorneys, are experienced at using effective cross examination techniques to defend our clients in criminal courts.

June 16, 2011

Miranda Warning Requirement Strengthened for Juvenile Suspects

The Miranda warnings that a police officer is required to provide to an arrested individual, including the fact that the suspect is entitled to an attorney and has the right to remain silent, are ingrained in American culture through their frequent depictions in movies and television. The reality of the Miranda warnings was strengthened today when the Supreme Court ruled in J.D.B. v. North Carolina that a police officer interrogating a juvenile must take youth's age into consideration when determining whether to give the individual a "Miranda warning."

The effect of this ruling will be to expand protection for all juveniles suspected of criminal activity, including those faced with possible criminal charges in Maryland. Unfortunately, as the underlying facts of this case demonstrate, the rights of criminal suspects are often violated during police investigations. An experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney can stand up for the rights a person charged with a crime, and protect the constitutional rights that a defendant is entitled to.

In the J.D.B. v. North Carolina case, a 13-year-old suspected in a string of local burglaries. A police officer came to the boy's school and took the young man out of the classroom to a closed-door conference room where the boy was questioned for 30 minutes. The police officer did not provide J.D.B. with a Miranda warning. Likewise, he was not given the opportunity to call his grandmother or legal guardian. North Carolina argued that the officer's questioning of J.D.B. was not an interrogation, and J.D.B. was not under arrest, because he could have left the room at any time.

The Supreme Court overturned J.D.B.'s conviction, based on the fact that he had not been provided the proper Miranda warnings. The Court held that sometimes Miranda warnings are required even when an individual is not technically detained, if that person would not understand that he or she was free to leave. Here, the Court felt that the 13-year-old, sitting in a closed-door conference room at his school in the presence of school officials and a police officer, without the assistance of his guardian, might not have understand what his rights were.

The Court held that J.D.B. was essentially in custody, and that interrogation of an individual in police custody creates "inherently compelling pressures." Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U. S. 436, 467 (1966). The Court pointed out that these pressures can induce individuals to wrongly confess to crimes they never committed at a "frighteningly high" rate. Specifically, the Court's ruling required that a police officer must take a person's age into account when determining whether to read to that person his or her Miranda rights. This decision could lead to a dramatic proliferation of Miranda warnings; "the practical effect of the ruling may be that officers, to be on the safe side legally, would give warnings to any suspect who does not appear to be close to age 18."

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