Articles Posted in Criminal Defense

The United States Supreme Court today ruled that criminal defendants have the constitutional right to effective representation when making the decision as to whether or not to accept a plea bargain. In two paired cases, Lafler v. Cooper and Missouri v. Frye, the Court ruled that an attorney’s mistakes at the plea bargain stage can render a defendant’s plea ineffectual.

supreme court.jpg Our Annapolis criminal defense attorneys are experienced at giving our clients the right advice with regard to all of the client’s available options, including plea deals. In today’s legal climate, more often than not, criminal charges are resolved by way of plea bargains, rather than trials. Our attorneys are prepared to provide our clients with the proper guidance as to what will give the clients the best results possible.

In Cooper, Cooper’s attorney informed him that he could not be convicted of assault with intent to murder, because of the attorney’s belief that Michigan law did not permit a finding of intent to murder when the victim was shot below the waist; the attorney was wrong. As a result, Cooper rejected a plea deal, under which he would have received a recommended 51-to-85-month sentence. He was subsequently convicted at trial, and received the mandatory minimum 185-to-360-month sentence.

In Frye, the defendant was arrested for driving with a revoked license, the third time he had been arrested for that offense. Frye faced a maximum of four years in prison on the charge. The prosecutor in the case provided Frye’s attorney with an offer to reduce the charge, making it a misdemeanor, with a 90 day jail sentence. Frye’s attorney, however, did not bother to relay the offer to his client. Frye ultimately plead guilty to the charge, without the benefit of the offered plea bargain, and was sentenced to three years in prison.
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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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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.

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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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.

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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The Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled yesterday in McGurk v. State that an overnight guest was entitled to 4th Amendment protections when on a second-floor balcony at a friend’s home in Ocean City, Maryland. The decision is notable because of the Court’s analysis of the extent to which the 4th Amendment protections apply in an area that is arguably within the public view.

The application of the 4th Amendment of the United States Constitution to a particular set of facts in a criminal proceeding often involves a complex analysis of a convoluted area of the law. Fourth Amendment protections have evolved significantly over time, frequently changing with the evolution of the United States Supreme Court, as well as the Maryland appellate courts. An attorney experienced at presenting technical arguments to the Maryland Courts is essential for an individual who finds himself or herself facing criminal charges.

balcony_with_wooden_railing.JPGThe balcony in question in McGurk was a second-floor balcony with a wooden railing. There were plants, a glass table, and chairs on the balcony. A set of stairs led from the balcony down to the sidewalk in front of the house, and there was no gate blocking the entrance to the stairs or the balcony. Notably, the balcony was not the primary entrance to the residence. At 3:15 a.m. on a summer morning, an officer walked up the stairs to the balcony where McGurk and another individual were sitting because he was searching for the source of an odor of burnt marijuana. After questioning and ultimately searching McGurk and the other individual on the balcony, the officer found marijuana, cocaine, and a large amount of cash in McGurk’s possession. McGurk was found guilty after her attempts to suppress the evidence were futile, and she appealed.

In perhaps the most famous case addressing the protections provided by the 4th Amendment, the United States Supreme Court in Katz v. United States said that “the Fourth Amendment protects people, not places. What a person knowingly exposes to the public, even in his own home or office, is not a subject of Fourth Amendment protection. But what he seeks to preserve as private, even in an area accessible to the public, may be constitutionally protected.”

The McGurk case turned primarily on an analysis of what part of the area surrounding a dwelling is part of the “curtilage” of that dwelling, and thus whether there was an expectation that the balcony in question was open to the public or preserved as private. The United States Supreme Court held in United States v. Dunn that an area is considered to be part of the curtilage of a dwelling house if it is “intimately tied to the home itself.” For an area to be part of the curtilage of a home such that the 4th Amendment protections should apply, there must be a reasonable expectation of privacy. There is a two-part test to determining whether there is a reasonable expectation of privacy – an individual must demonstrate that he had an actual subjective expectation of privacy, and society must be willing to recognize that expectation as reasonable.”
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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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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.

laptop_computer.jpgThe Maryland Court of Special Appeals held last week that a conviction for felony theft over $500 for the theft of a computer could not be upheld, because the testimony regarding the value of the computer stolen was not sufficient to prove the value of the computer at the time of the theft. The case, Champagne v. State, was a reminder of the necessity that criminal defendants force the State to prove all aspects of their case beyond a reasonable doubt, without reliance on supposition or guesswork by the jury.

In order to present the strongest defense available, 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.

In Champagne v. State, the defendant was charged with theft of property worth $500 or more based on an allegation that Champagne had stolen a computer. (The Maryland felony theft statute now applies to thefts of over $1,000, due to a change in the law). The prosecution presented testimony by the owner of the computer that he purchased the computer three years before for either $1,600 or $1,800. There was no other evidence as to the value of the computer at the time of the theft.