August 2011 Archives

August 22, 2011

Maryland Attorney Preserves Issue of Improper Jury Instruction for Appeal

court of appeals.jpgThe Court of Appeals ruled in Atkins v. State that a Court's instruction concerning the evidence presented by the State unfairly commented on the evidence. As a result, the Court of Appeals reversed the Defendant's conviction. One notable aspect of its opinion, however, was the necessity of the Defendant's attorney to preserve the issue of the impropriety of the instruction for appeal.

A Maryland defense attorney with years of experience in preserving arguments at the trial level is vital to an individual facing criminal charges. Through the preservation of potential appellate arguments, a defendant retains all available chances to preserve his or her freedom.

In Atkins, the Defendant admittedly used a knife in a fight, but his assertion was that it was in self defense, and the knife he used was only a pocket knife. The State, in an effort to make the crime appear more serious than if a small pocket knife was used, argued that the knife used was a 12-inch knife that was recovered in Defendant's bedroom. Notably, there was no link between the 12-inch knife and the victims' wounds, but the pocket knife was not available at the time of trial because the Defendant said that he had thrown it into a lake following the incident.

At trial, the defense attorney extensively cross-examined the police detective about the fact that there was no blood visible on the knife the State alleged was used in the stabbing, and that no tests were performed on the knife to determine if there were any substances on the knife that could link it to the stabbing. The defense attorney was able to get the detective to acknowledge that the State had various tests available to it that could have been used to test the knife for any evidence linking it to the alleged crime scene.

At the conclusion of the trial, the Court provided the following instruction, which the Defendant's attorney objected to:

During this trial, you have heard testimony of witnesses and may hear argument of counsel that the State did not utilize a specific investigative technique or scientific test. You may consider these facts in deciding whether the State has met its burden of proof. You should consider all of the evidence or lack of evidence in deciding whether the defendant is guilty. However, I instruct you that there is no legal requirement that the State utilize any specific investigative technique or scientific test to prove its case.

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August 5, 2011

Vigorous Representation Is Necessary in When the Public Eye is Focused

Clarence_Darrow.jpg Most people's image of the classic criminal defense attorney is that of Johnnie Cochran defending O.J. Simpson, Clarence Darrow's famous closing argument in the case of Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold, or Shawn Holley Chapman's ongoing attempt to help Lindsey Lohan stay out of jail. The day-to-day reality of what a defense lawyer does, though, is much less likely to make the headlines of Entertainment Tonight or the Baltimore Sun. Most often, the criminal defense attorney's hardest work comes behind the scenes, where frequently the most benefit for the client can be had. This is especially true when a criminal defendant is facing charges that have highly inflamed the public and are drawing a lot of attention from the media.

In order to obtain the best representation possible - for cases in the media or just of concern to the defendant and his or her family - individuals facing criminal charges should seek representation by experienced Maryland criminal defense attorneys. At Brassel, Alexander & Rice, our criminal defense attorneys are highly experienced, and always seek to obtain the best possible results for our clients, whether that result can be found in the courtroom or through negotiation with the prosecutor.

When the media spotlight focuses on a case, the defendant in the case is at an extreme disadvantage. When public attention stays on the facts of a case, not only does the potential jury pool become tainted with significant amounts of inadmissible statements and evidence, but the State's Attorney begins to feel a lot of political pressure as well. State's Attorneys are elected officials in Maryland, and it is inevitable that they will listen to what their constituencies have to say on a matter that has a high public profile.

A case in point was the recent plea deal for Teonna Brown, the young woman charged with the beating of Chrissy Polis, a transgendered woman, at a local McDonald's. The episode caught significant regional media attention, was viewed on video millions of times around the world, and was also used by advocates for transgendered people to strengthen calls for legal protection for the transgendered.

Under such public scrutiny, obtaining a fair trial for Ms. Brown in the case would have been very difficult, and the importance for the criminal defense attorney to press the case behind the scenes became paramount. Charged with first degree assault and other crimes, Ms. Brown faced a minimum of 25 years in prison, with the possibility of having an additional ten years of prison time tacked on because of hate crime charges. Ms. Brown's defense attorney, however, was able to work out a plea deal in which Ms. Brown would only face a ten-year sentence, with five of those years suspended. Thus, while the defense attorney's work was done behind the scenes in this case, it was in all likelihood much more effective than anything that he could have accomplished in front of a jury in a courtroom.

It is vital for criminal defendants to hire experienced Maryland criminal defense attorneys immediately when faced with criminal charges. When the public is focused on a particular crime and calling for a heavy punishment, experienced legal representation can be the difference between a very difficult trial and a positive result in plea negotiations.