January 2012 Archives

January 27, 2012

Supreme Court Decides - But Doesn't Decide - Issue of GPS Tracking

In a case profiled here in October, the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling this week reversing the conviction of Antoine Jones. The case held the potential to drastically alter the Court's Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, but due to the very narrow grounds the Court based its ruling on, many of the issues related to warrantless electronic monitoring of suspects has been left to future cases.

gps.jpgWhile the Fourth Amendment may seem technical or scholastic to some, the meaning of the right to be secure in one's person and possessions has far-reaching effects in most criminal cases. The charges the State brings against a defendant, whether murder charges or drug possession, almost always implicate the Fourth Amendment. Our experienced Annapolis drug possession attorneys have the knowledge and understanding of the Fourth Amendment necessary to protect our clients' rights.

The Supreme Court held that the case was a "classic trespassory search" within the meaning originally provided by the framers of the Fourth Amendment, because of the nature of the police's action: "[t]he Government physically occupied private property for the purpose of obtaining information.". The earliest case law on the Fourth Amendment only addressed violations of privacy that involved physical trespass. For example, in Olmstead v. United States, decided in 1928, the Court held that there was no Fourth Amendment violation when a wiretap was attached to telephone wires on public streets; without a physical trespass to an individual's property or person, there was no search.

The Court altered its analysis of what a Fourth Amendment search was in Katz v. United States, a 1967 case in which a listening device was placed on the outside of a public telephone booth. With that case, the Court expanded the protections of the Fourth Amendment to include more than situations where there was a physical trespass to a person or his or her property. Under Katz, a Fourth Amendment violation occurred when the police violated an individual's "reasonable expectation of privacy." The Katz decision did not, however, get rid of the restrictions on traditional "trespassory" searches.

Thus, applied to this case, the Court held that the police's action in placing the GPS tracking device on Jones' vehicle constituted a Fourth Amendment search because there was a physical trespass to his property. Because the police did not have a valid warrant at the time they placed the tracking device, they violated the Fourth Amendment, and the Court reversed Jones' conviction.

What is perhaps most interesting to this decision is what it did not decide. Justice Scalia, along with Justices Roberts, Thomas, and Kennedy joined, provided what is considered to be the majority opinion, because Justice Sotomayor concurred with the opinion. Justice Sotomayor suggested that she wished the majority had expanded its opinion, pointing out that "[i]n cases of electronic or other novel modes of surveillance that do not depend upon a physical invasion on property, the majority opinion's trespassory test may provide little guidance."

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January 12, 2012

Baseball Star Miguel Cabrera Pleads Guilty to DUI

Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera recently plead guilty to DUI in St. Lucie County, Florida. Notable in the case is the plea deal his attorney negotiated for him, avoiding jail time and allowing him to put the case behind him before spring training starts up.

Our experienced Maryland DUI attorneys have years of practice negotiating the best possible results for our clients, in legal representation ranging from DUIs to drug arrests and beyond. Our attorneys recognize that each case is different and requires particularized focus, both related to the facts of the case and the client's individual needs.

The facts of Cabrera's arrest show that his February 2011 arrest was not a run-of-the-mill DUI. After arguing with and threatening a manager and a police officer at a bar when he was refused service, Cabrera took off in his Land Rover before other Fort Pierce, Florida police arrived on the scene. Later that night, a sheriff's deputy came across Cabrera's truck, which had smoke rising from the engine. The police noted that Cabrera had bloodshot, watery eyes, and slurred speech. With officers on the scene, Cabrera grabbed a bottle of scotch and took a drink - a move that probably did not help his cause!

Cabrera actually faced a number of charges, including the DUI, two resisting an officer charges, and an open container violation, which his attorney was able to negotiate into the plea deal. As a result of the deal, Cabrera must comply with a number of sanctions: he was fined $500, had to pay about $1400 in court costs, is on probation for a year, must attend a couple of classes and perform 50 hours of community service, and had his driver's license suspended for six months. Despite the sanctions imposed, none of which appear to be especially onerous to Cabrera, the plea deal benefited him because it allowed him to focus his time and energy on the upcoming baseball season, and avoided any possibility of jail time. While "celebrity justice" probably played a bit of a role in the outcome, it looks like the attorney obtained a very favorable deal for his client under the circumstances.

Our attorneys are experienced in defending DUI, DWI, and other drunk-driving charges in Baltimore, Annapolis, and throughout Maryland. Each case is different, but our experienced attorneys work to achieve the best possible deal for each of our clients' particular circumstances.

January 4, 2012

Maryland Court Finds a Right to Represenation at Initial Appearance

This morning, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that, under the Public Defender Act, all indigent defendants have a right to representation at the initial appearance before the District Court Commissioner.

Our experienced Baltimore criminal defense attorneys can handle client representation at all stages of criminal proceedings, from the initial appearance through to a court or jury trial.

The initial appearance before the District Court Commissioner is an important stage of a defendant's exposure to the criminal justice system. At this appearance, the Commissioner tells the defendant of the charge(s) and the allowable penalties, and provides the defendant with a copy of the statement of charges. The Commissioner advises the defendant of his or her right to counsel, and of the right to a preliminary hearing. Thereafter, the Commissioner, in cases where a defendant was arrested without a warrant, determines whether there was probable cause to support the defendant's arrest.

jail.jpg If the Commissioner determines that the defendant's arrest was supported by probable cause, the Commissioner then determines whether the defendant is eligible for release or whether bail should be set. This determination can be vital to a defendant, as a Commissioner's decision to impose bail, as the Court found, is summarily confirmed by a Judge at a subsequent bail review hearing. Under Maryland Rule 2-416, the Commissioner considers (1) the nature and circumstances of the offense (including the supporting evidence at the potential sentence upon conviction), (2) the defendant's prior record of appearance at court proceedings; (3) the defendant's family ties, employment status and history, financial resources, reputation, character and mental condition, length of residence in the community, and length of residence in this State*; (4) any recommendation of an agency that conducts pretrial release investigations; (5) any recommendation of the State's Attorney; (6) any information presented by the defendant or defendant's counsel; (7) the danger of the defendant to the community; (8) the danger of the defendant to himself or herself; and (9) any other relevant factor factor related to the defendant's likelihood of appearance at trial and the risk to the safety of others, such as prior convictions. The Commissioner, applying this Rule, can and often does determine that bail should be set. If the defendant is unable to meet his bail, he or she will be held in jail until a bail review hearing, and possibly until his or her trial date.

The "Public Defender Act" is codified at section 16-201 of the Criminal Procedure Article of the Maryland Code. The Court relied on two provisions of the Public Defender Act to find the right to representation. The Court noted that under section 16-204(b)(1)(i), indigent defendants are entitled to representation in proceedings where they are alleged to have committed a "serious offense." In section 16-204(b)(1)(iv), indigent defendants are statutorily guaranteed the right to an attorney at any other proceeding in which they face the possibility of commitment to jail. Between the two sections, all hearings before the Commissioner are covered. The former section addresses serious crime, and the latter section encompasses all other defendants, because the hearing is a determination of whether or not bail will be set; by definition, as the Commissioner may decline to release an individual on his or her own recognizance, jail is a possibility when a defendant appears before the Commissioner.

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