December 2011 Archives

December 28, 2011

Maryland Appellate Court Reverses Trial Court's Suppression Ruling

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals issued a ruling last week in a case that could have long-reaching effects on police interrogation, overturning a trial court's suppression of a Defendant's statements based on a finding that he was not in custody when he incriminated himself. Although the case will surely be appealed, if the Court of Special Appeals' ruling is upheld, a loophole in the requirement that police officers provide arrested individuals their "Miranda rights" has been expanded.

The rights protected by the United States Supreme Court's decision in Miranda v. Arizona, have long been a bastion of protection for criminal defendants: these include, primarily, the right to not provide the police with self-inculpatory statements, and the right to representation by an attorney. The police know that when a suspect has an attorney representing him or her, the chances of obtaining incriminating evidence against that suspect drop off precipitously. Our experienced Annapolis criminal defense attorneys have the background necessary to protect these and other rights that criminal defendants have at their disposal.

handcuffs.jpg In State v. Thomas, the Defendant Thomas was interrogated at a police station regarding allegations that he had sexually assaulted his 14-year-old daughter. After a pre-trial suppression hearing, the trial court found that a reasonable person in the Defendant's position - sitting in a police interrogation room with the door closed, albeit unlocked, and being questioned about having sex with his daughter - would not have felt free to leave. The trial court also determined that the detectives were not merely asking questions to determine what had happened; they were actively trying to develop a case against the Defendant. As the trial court stated, "[the detectives] were gathering evidence. 'What did you do? Where was she touched? When did it start? How many times did you do it?' And the argument is that Miranda warnings should not have been given?"

The trial court continued, "[a]t the end of the day, the query remains, what is wrong with giving people their Miranda rights? And I'll tell you what's wrong with it. As soon as defendants are given their Miranda warnings, they often lawyer up. And when they lawyer up, they don't get the information that detectives want to get."

The State appealed the evidence suppression under Section 12-302 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article of the Maryland Code, which permits interlocutory appeals under very limited circumstances. Following the appeal, the Court of Special Appeals overturned the trial court's suppression. There are a number of factors that the Court had to weigh to determine whether the interrogation at the police station was "custodial." These include:

when and where it occurred, how long it lasted, how many police were present, what the officers and the defendant said and did, the presence of actual physical restraint on the defendant or things equivalent to actual restraint such as drawn weapons or a guard stationed at the door, and whether the defendant was being questioned as a suspect or as a witness. Facts pertaining to events before the interrogation are also relevant, especially how the defendant got to the place of questioning whether he came completely on his own, in response to a police request or escorted by police officers. Finally, what happened after the interrogation whether the defendant left freely, was detained or arrested may assist the court in determining whether the defendant, as a reasonable person, would have felt free to break off the questioning.

Pre-Interrogation

The Court of Special Appeals determined that since the Defendant had driven himself at the station at the mere request, rather than demand, of the police officers, that there was no coercion on the part of the police in getting him to the station.

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December 13, 2011

Not Just the State - Federal Criminal Laws Affect Maryland Residents, Too

While the mental image we all conjure of a "criminal" might be someone in handcuffs being stuffed into the back of an Anne Arundel squad car, hundreds of thousands of people, many of them in Maryland, find themselves in the crosshairs of the "Feds" instead. And not always for the reasons you might expect, such as drug running, murder, or counterfeiting. The list of Federal crimes (which is much longer than what is shown through that link), has grown to include tax crimes, immigration violations, and environmental crimes. Every year on average, over 50 new Federal crimes are added to the books.

Our experienced Maryland criminal law attorneys are not just members of the Maryland Bar; our attorneys are admitted to practice before the Federal Courts in Maryland as well. Our attorneys can assist you in facing criminal charges ranging from the most notorious to the criminal charges that you might not even understand, such as when you are charged with a crime for doing exactly what you thought was the correct thing to do.

sewer.jpgA Maryland man named Lawrence Lewis recently learned that criminal penalties can apply even when you believe that you are doing the right thing. Mr. Lewis, working as a custodian for at a military retirement home, had to decide what to do when rising sewage waters threatened to flood an area full of sick residents. He did what custodians at the home always did, and what they thought they were supposed to do - he diverted the sewage into an outside storm drain, one he thought was connected to the local water treatment facility. As it turns out, the sewage flowed directly into the Potomac River, and Mr. Lewis found himself facing Federal charges for violating the Clean Water Act.

Typically, criminal activity consists of two parts: a mens rea, that is, a "guilty mind," and an actus reus, or the "guilty act." The "guilty act" is fairly self-explanatory: it means the action that violated the law. But typically, for someone to be guilty of a crime, there must also be evidence that there was an intent to commit the crime. Mens rea suggests that the person who is guilty of a criminal act acted in some sort of culpable fashion. But as Mr. Lewis learned, not all crimes require a guilty mind. Sometimes, you can be found guilty even when you believe that you are not only not breaking the law, but when you believe you are doing something absolutely necessary for the public well-being.

Mr. Lewis' "crime" had no mens rea. In the end, it did not matter what he thought was right. Rather than facing a trial and possible jail time, Mr. Lewis' attorney (not affiliated with Brassel, Alexander & Rice) worked with the Federal prosecutor to set up a plea deal, under which Mr. Lewis accepted a year of probation.

Our Maryland criminal attorneys are well-versed in assisting clients reach the right decision when it comes to fighting charges or accepting plea deals. Each case is different, whether there are allegations that a defendant committed murder, was caught with a bag of marijuana, or even violated an obscure law when he thought he was doing the right thing. Each case needs its own analysis, and an advocate that will fight for the best resolution for the client.