The constitution forbids law enforcement from detaining citizens without probable cause, and from obtaining forced confessions. The line between what is forced and what is voluntary can often be blurry. A recent case reinforces that the “reasonable person” standard will govern when determining if a defendant’s actions were voluntary.

Man Convicted of Murder

The case involved an officer who responded to a crime scene with multiple dead bodies. Upon leaving, the officer came upon a man heading to the apartment, and asked the man to stay on premises for further questioning. The man was not put under arrest, even after multiple officers arrived, but remained voluntarily.

Our jury system revolves around a jury’s ability to debate freely, anonymously, and to make decisions without worrying about being second guessed. That is why it is almost impossible to attack a verdict based on how a juror deliberated, or how they made a decision.

But a recent U.S. Supreme Court case has dealt with the problem of what happens when a juror makes a decision based on prejudicial attitudes towards a race or nationality.

Juror Makes Prejudicial Comments

We have written in the past about Maryland’s efforts to decriminalize the possession of certain, smaller amounts of marijuana. Those laws make possession of amounts of marijuana less than 10 grams a “civil wrong,” akin to a parking violation. That is, against the law, but not actually a crime that will lead to arrest, or jail time.

If smaller amounts of marijuana are no longer criminal offenses, how does that affect a police officer’s ability to search and seize property when the officer smells marijuana? In other words, does smelling marijuana still provide the probable cause needed for an officer to search a car in the absence of a warrant? A recent case dealt with just this question.

Marijuana Odor Leads to Arrest

In the past few years, we have written about the changes in Maryland’s criminal laws that have slowly decriminalized certain marijuana-related crimes. The push in Maryland, and nationally, is towards less harsh penalties for these crimes, and now Maryland may be on board to join the states that have made marijuana completely legal.

Lawmakers to Discuss Changes

State lawmakers are discussing letting voters decide in 2018 whether marijuana should be legal, by putting a legalization measure on the ballot that would change Maryland’s constitution. The proposal is to allow marijuana to be sold, regulated, and taxed the same way that alcohol is currently.

We tend to think that in a criminal case, anything that tends to show that a defendant is not guilty or guilty can be admitted in trial. This is especially true when there are conflicting stories or recollections of how events may have occurred. After all, logic seems to dictate that anything that tends to help the jury determine which witnesses should be believed and which should not should be considered.

Credibility Statements Excluded

In fact, statements that are offered in court just to suggest that a witness is credible or not, or to solely support a witness’ character, are not allowed to be admitted as evidence. These statements are not allowed because those determinations can only be made by a jury.

We hear a lot of news about hate crimes, which seemingly relate to every form of crime, from offensive graffiti all the way to murder. Many people are confused about exactly what hate crimes are and how they are treated in the criminal justice system.

Hate Crimes Defined

In its simplest form, a hate crime is an act that would otherwise constitute a crime with enhanced penalties if that crime was committed with the motive or intent to discriminate, or if the victim was selected because of a particular race or religion. So, someone who graffitis the side of a building is certainly committing a crime, but when that graffiti contains racial or religious insults, now that crime is being committed with the intent to discriminate against, or with malice towards, a particular group. The penalties for the underlying crime are then enhanced and additional charges may very likely result.

Short of the death penalty, life without parole is the most serious and harsh penalty that the criminal justice system can give out. Because of that, the United States Supreme Court has long recognized that it is unconstitutional to give that penalty to juveniles, no matter what their crimes. Juveniles must have some avenue for parole, no matter how remote or difficult, otherwise, their constitutional rights are violated.

Case Challenges Maryland’s System

A federal case being heard by a Maryland judge is testing Maryland’s own parole system against that standard. In a suit brought by the ACLU, a number of individuals convicted when they were minors of various crimes are arguing that Maryland’s system of parole for juveniles is a system of parole in name only—in other words, practically speaking juveniles rarely, if ever, qualify for parole.

Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a crime. Most know that. It does not matter whether a driver is intoxicated by alcohol or drugs, which is why it is referred to as a driving under the influence/driving while intoxicated (DUI/DWI), terms broad enough to encompass those driving under influence of a number of different substances.

Man Arrested for Elevated Caffeine Levels

One driver in California has been charged with a crime that seems to stretch the limits of this definition. Recently, a man was pulled over for driving with too much caffeine in his system. The man was charged after he allegedly swerved, cutting off an unmarked officer’s car. Testing showed 0% alcohol in his system and no traces of other illegal substances. The man is currently scheduled to go to trial, and the only evidence that the state has is a blood test showing elevated caffeine levels. The test results were independently confirmed by a second laboratory, which also found only caffeine in the man’s blood.

When someone is charged with a crime, there are many variables that go into a person’s decision to plead guilty. Many are also unaware of the constitutional waivers that come with a guilty plea, and the rights that can be lost. A recent case shines some light on the often harsh consequences of pleading guilty, when new evidence is discovered.

New DNA Evidence Discovered

The case involves a Defendant who was convicted of sexual assault. He later learned that there was evidence that had not been tested for DNA, which could possibly exonerate him for the crime. He moved to have the newly discovered evidence DNA tested.

A few weeks back we wrote about concerns that were being raised over Maryland’s bail system. Legislators had been made aware of a constitutional problem about how judges determine bail amounts, and about defendants’ ability to pay them. Now, the issue has gone from a talking point to what may be a rule change on the issue.

The Problem With Bail Determinations

The problem is that in many cases courts were determining that defendants were entitled to bail, and setting bail amounts. However, courts were not considering a defendant’s ability to pay the bail amount. A “small” bail of $1,000 may be a large bail if that defendant is homeless.