November 2011 Archives

November 23, 2011

Maryland Court of Appeals Reinstates Murder Conviction

map.jpgRecently the highest court in Maryland reinstated the murder conviction (link requires Daily Record login) of a defendant whose conviction had been overturned by the Court of Special Appeals. In White v. State, the defendant was charged in Maryland with a murder in which the body was actually discovered in Washington, D.C.. The Court held that the State's Attorney's argument to the jury as to what a hypothetical D.C. jury would do with the case if the Maryland jury acquitted and he was then retried in D.C. - and what the defense's arguments would be if the case got that far - was not an improper argument.

The Court of Appeals' decision demonstrates just how important it is to develop a strong case for trial; the State is given tremendous leeway to make arguments that create an unfair bias for the criminal defendant facing trial. An experienced attorney is necessary both to develop that trial strategy, and to push back against the State's power.

At trial, White's counsel argued with regard to the murder charge that his client faced, that there was no evidence as to where the fatal gunshots actually occurred; the shots could have been fired in Maryland or in the District of Columbia. As such, according to White, since it is the State's burden of proving that the fatal shot occurred in Maryland, the jury was required to convict.

The State countered White, essentially arguing that the defendant would argue to a D.C. jury the opposite - that there was no evidence that the crime occurred in D.C. - and that a D.C. jury might not convict because of the same argument. The State's Attorney argued:

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November 16, 2011

Maryland Sheriff Wants Jurors to Convict Every Time

sheriff badge.jpegCharles County, Maryland Sheriff Rex Coffey recently told citizens at a community meeting that if they ever had a chance to serve on a criminal jury, they should find the defendant guilty every time.

While this Sheriff's statements are an extreme example of the type of difficulties a Maryland criminal defendant may have in obtaining an unbiased jury at trial, there are many factors that can influence the perspectives of prospective jurors long before they are called to jury duty. Our Maryland criminal defense attorneys are experienced at selecting jurors that will provide our clients the best opportunities at trial.

Sheriff Coffey told the attendees that, "when you get the opportunity to serve on a jury in Charles County, listen to the evidence and then find them guilty."

He was not concerned about wrongful convictions - at least not in his jurisdiction: "That crap don't happen in Charles County. It's real simple -- if we don't think you're guilty we don't arrest you to begin with."

Notably with regard to his point on the subject of the relationship between guilt and an arrest, Coffey undermined his own argument for the jury to convict every time when he acknowledged that it only requires probable cause to arrest an individual. He is correct to state that probable cause is required to arrest someone, but he is flat out wrong when he equates the standards for arrest with the standards for conviction. For a jury to find an individual guilty of a charge that the State has brought, the jury must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt - a much higher standard.

Continuing, Coffey even went so far as to say that anyone who testifies or argues that someone is not guilty is lying:

We don't just arrest people who are innocent. It's probable cause it's a lot more than that. I can't say it enough: You get in that courtroom and those defense attorneys start giving you this crap about how this person's innocent and never been before the court before ... and for some reason the only ones not allowed to lie is the police officer. Everyone else is in there lying.You see the stupid stuff that goes on. He [a defendant] had his whole family come in and lie for him. We told the truth and the jury says not guilty.

He concluded, "When you get a chance to convict someone, do it! Do it! Because I'm telling you jail is a lot nicer than it ought to be," Coffey said.

Sheriff Coffey's comments are directly opposed to the protections that all criminal defendants are provided, both under the Maryland Declaration of Rights and the United States Constitution. As the Sixth Amendment provides,

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed . . . .

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