A new Maryland case has put limits on how and when officers can constitutionally frisk (pat down) individuals at a potential crime scene. The case is important in determining whether evidence obtained by officers at a crime scene are admissible in a trial, and is a victory for the rights of the accused.

Frisk of Individual is Challenged

The situation began when police observed the defendant sitting in a stationary car that had a broken tail light. He was not the driver, but was in the back seat. Police reported that he seemed nervous, and although the driver stated he was waiting there to pick someone up, police did not believe him.

When someone is arrested and is awaiting trial, bail and the ability to pay it is the difference between awaiting trial a free person, or doing it behind bars. Bail is intended to balance two important principles.

The first is that we are innocent unless proven guilty, and thus, someone should not be imprisoned before he or she is convicted unless a danger to the community. The other is to avoid the possibility that someone accused of a crime may run away or flee in an effort to evade a trial. Thus, a system of bail allows someone arrested and awaiting trial to be free before trial, unless a court makes certain findings.

How Bail is Determined

When it comes to drunk driving there is almost universal agreement that those who cause injury by getting behind the wheel while intoxicated, should be held responsible for their actions, both civilly and criminally. For the most part, laws are in place to make sure that this happens.

But there is a sticky area of law when it comes to being drunk behind the wheel when it involves those who provide alcohol to others who then get behind the wheel intoxicated and cause injury.

But along with many other new laws coming into effect, Maryland’s laws are set to bring at least some clarity to this area of law with a new change.

Maryland police have made numerous arrests in connection with what appears to be a real-life mob operation, and racketeering charges are now pending against numerous members of the gang.

Real Life Gang Story

Police allege that the gang, known as MMP, controlled numerous streets and neighborhoods in Baltimore, engaging in a drug trafficking ring. The indictment alleges that the group managed “shops,” where they would distribute illegal drugs. One such shot is believed to be a BP gas station.

Maryland has passed the Justice Reinvestment Act, a sweeping crime reform bill that is coming into law in phases. One of the most anticipated new changes has to do with the expungement of criminal records. Many see it as an opportunity to start fresh, as the law creates opportunity to erase a criminal record where that opportunity did not previously exist.

What is Expungement

Expungement is the ability to have a criminal record, particularly convictions, erased from the public records. The benefit of expungements is that it allows people a better opportunity at a fresh start; the stigma that comes from a criminal record can make it difficult for people to find employment, or other opportunities.

Whenever drones, cameras, or other surveillance equipment are involved in our lives, the first question we usually have is how that technology will impact our right to privacy. This is particularly true when it comes to law enforcement, where the constitution provides us certain privacy rights, and restricts how and when the government can search our property.

Baltimore Police Using Overhead Surveillance

It was recently revealed that the Baltimore police department has been surveilling people from the sky, using a Cessna that was funded by a private donor. The news came as a surprise even to the mayor and the city council. Many are upset not just at the nature of the program, but over the allegation that it has been kept hidden for some period of time.

A recent article is bringing attention to a longstanding problem in our criminal justice system, not just in Maryland, but nationwide – overworked, underpaid, and overwhelmed, public defenders. The problem not only undermines the integrity of the system, but threatens the constitutional rights of accused defendants, as well.

What is a Public Defender?

The constitution guarantees those convicted of a crime the right to an attorney. As you may know from TV or movies, if someone cannot afford an attorney, the state will appoint an attorney for the defendant. Those appointed attorneys are public defenders, and they are paid by the state.

Juveniles and minors are certainly capable of committing crimes, just as adults are, and the criminal justice system has laws that are specially designed to handle juvenile offenders. Being a minor does not mean you give up any constitutional rights, but questions over how minors in Maryland’s criminal justice system are handled are currently causing some controversy.

Minors in the System

Generally, the criminal justice system treats minors differently than adults for a number of reasons. The first is that the law recognizes that minors are not fully formed in terms of logic, decision making, or maturity.

Constitutionality can often be a question of inches. What an officer does, or where he or she goes in the process of investigating or arresting someone can be the difference between evidence being constitutional and thus admissible or being excluded.

Officer Smells Drugs

A recent case dealt with the question of what happens when an officer’s head comes just inches too far into a defendant’s vehicle. The case arose when an officer stopped a man for speeding. When the man rolled down his window, the officer testified that he smelled an odor of marijuana when he learned his head into the car through the open window. Another officer was called to the scene, who conducted a scan with a trained police dog. The dog alerted officers to the presence of drugs, and the defendant himself admitted to it.

A judge has acquitted a Maryland law enforcement officer involved in the death of Freddie Gray. No matter how you feel about the ultimate decision, the case continues to provide teaching points about how our criminal justice system works.

One Interesting aspect of the recent acquittals is how it points out the differing standards between civil and criminal liability. Even though no officers were found guilty of any crime, we hear “beyond a reasonable doubt” a lot in TV and movies. But every now and then, we see it in action.

Facts of the Gray Case