Articles Posted in Criminal Defense

The Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment to United States Constitution requires that “[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right…to be confronted with the witnesses against him….” With it’s decision last week in Bullcoming v. New Mexico, the Supreme Court strengthened the Confrontation Clause when it ruled that a criminal defendant has the right to cross examine the actual analyst who performed crime lab testing on evidence in the case, rather than a surrogate witness.

The effect of cross examining the State’s witnesses can make or break a defendant’s case. Whether the issue is cross examining the analyst who read the defendant’s breathalyzer results in a drunk driving case, or asking questions of the individual who analyzed DNA samples from the crime scene in a murder case, cross examination is the defense’s most effective tool. A Maryland criminal defense attorney experienced at using cross examination effectively can be the central factor to whether a criminal defendant is convicted or acquitted of the charges he or she faces.

In the New Mexico case, the defendant, Donald Bullcoming, was found guilty at trial of driving while intoxicated. The focus of the prosecution’s case was a crime lab report which showed that his blood-alcohol level was above New Mexico’s legal limit for driving. The prosecution in the Bullcoming case called an analyst to testify about the results of the lab test which showed Bullcoming’s blood-alcohol content, but called a different analyst than the analyst who actually performed the analysis.

The Miranda warnings that a police officer is required to provide to an arrested individual, including the fact that the suspect is entitled to an attorney and has the right to remain silent, are ingrained in American culture through their frequent depictions in movies and television. The reality of the Miranda warnings was strengthened today when the Supreme Court ruled in J.D.B. v. North Carolina that a police officer interrogating a juvenile must take youth’s age into consideration when determining whether to give the individual a “Miranda warning.”

The effect of this ruling will be to expand protection for all juveniles suspected of criminal activity, including those faced with possible criminal charges in Maryland. Unfortunately, as the underlying facts of this case demonstrate, the rights of criminal suspects are often violated during police investigations. An experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney can stand up for the rights a person charged with a crime, and protect the constitutional rights that a defendant is entitled to.

In the J.D.B. v. North Carolina case, a 13-year-old suspected in a string of local burglaries. A police officer came to the boy’s school and took the young man out of the classroom to a closed-door conference room where the boy was questioned for 30 minutes. The police officer did not provide J.D.B. with a Miranda warning. Likewise, he was not given the opportunity to call his grandmother or legal guardian. North Carolina argued that the officer’s questioning of J.D.B. was not an interrogation, and J.D.B. was not under arrest, because he could have left the room at any time.

The Supreme Court overturned J.D.B.’s conviction, based on the fact that he had not been provided the proper Miranda warnings. The Court held that sometimes Miranda warnings are required even when an individual is not technically detained, if that person would not understand that he or she was free to leave. Here, the Court felt that the 13-year-old, sitting in a closed-door conference room at his school in the presence of school officials and a police officer, without the assistance of his guardian, might not have understand what his rights were.

The Court held that J.D.B. was essentially in custody, and that interrogation of an individual in police custody creates “inherently compelling pressures.” Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U. S. 436, 467 (1966). The Court pointed out that these pressures can induce individuals to wrongly confess to crimes they never committed at a “frighteningly high” rate. Specifically, the Court’s ruling required that a police officer must take a person’s age into account when determining whether to read to that person his or her Miranda rights. This decision could lead to a dramatic proliferation of Miranda warnings; “the practical effect of the ruling may be that officers, to be on the safe side legally, would give warnings to any suspect who does not appear to be close to age 18.”
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dna.jpg The Maryland Court of Appeals recently issued an opinion in Blake v. State reemphasizing the requirements for the State in responding to post-conviction requests for DNA testing. The Court held that in entertaining a petition, a Circuit Court must “(1) identif[y] the most likely places where the evidence might be found, (2) require[] a thorough search of each place that should be searched, and (3) provide[] for an “on-the-record” determination of whether the search conformed to the requirements” of the Maryland Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article.

Although the Court’s opinion addresses access to DNA evidence in a post-conviction setting, the appropriate use of DNA evidence – or the exclusion of DNA evidence – is vital in the pre-trial stage, as well as while a criminal trial is ongoing. A Maryland criminal defense attorney experienced with the use of DNA evidence can be the difference between a conviction or an acquittal in cases where DNA evidence is central to the prosecution’s case.

DNA evidence can take on a number of identities in the legal system. DNA evidence can be a sword for the prosecution, because a positive DNA match to a criminal defendant is extremely effective in convincing a jury of that defendant’s guilt. DNA evidence can also be a shield in certain circumstances, however, using the same force it carries with a jury to show a defendant’s innocence. In other circumstances, DNA testing results can be inconclusive, a result that can also act as a tool in a defense attorney’s arsenal.

alibi.jpgIn McLennan v. State, the Maryland Court of Appeals upheld a circuit court’s decision to bar a defendant’s use of two alibi witnesses because defense counsel did not provide notice to the State of the required witness under the time requirements of the Maryland Rules. The Rules note a distinction between a defendant’s impeachment witnesses and his or her alibi witnesses, and require disclosure of alibi witnesses at least 30 days prior to trial.

As many defendants learn too late in the process, the failure to comply with the Maryland Rules of Criminal Procedure, especially with regard to discovery issues, can bar the defendant from presenting a defense, even if that defense would completely exonerate the accused. Obtaining the services of a Maryland criminal defense attorney that is experienced in the intricacies of the rules of criminal procedure should be the first step for any individual accused of a crime.

In McLennan, the defendant was accused of robbing a pizza deliveryman, and then leaving the scene in a truck driven by a co-defendant. On the day of trial, the defendant learned of two witnesses that could support his claims of innocence by describing where the defendant was before the crime allegedly occurred. Defense counsel informed the Court that the two witnesses would be called, but the Court determined that the witnesses were alibi witnesses, and held that because the rules governing discovery of alibi witnesses were not followed, the witnesses would not be permitted to testify.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled last month that “reach-in” strip searches by the police were not a violation of a suspect’s rights, if the searches were reasonable in scope, manner, and place, and the initiation of the search was justified. The holding permitted the introduction of evidence of the defendants’ drug possession, which had been obtained when the police reached into the defendants’ boxers on a public street and removed baggies containing drugs from the defendants’ buttocks.

The nature of a police search of an individual’s body by necessity involves questions of privacy and an individual’s Constitutional rights. When these rights are implicated, the services of an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney is vital to ensuring that those rights are protected.

The Court cited a holding by the United States Supreme Court, which set out four reasonableness factors for consideration, as the standard for determining whether a strip search incident to arrest violated the Fourth Amendment:

rxcannabis.jpg Delegate Dan Morhaim of the Maryland House of Delegates, the only doctor in the Maryland legislature, has introduced legislation to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes. The Maryland Senate attempted to legalize marijuana for medical purposes in April 2010, but the House of Delegates asked for more time to study the measure, and the Senate bill never became law.

The experienced Maryland attorneys at Brassel Alexander handle the defense of individuals charged with the possession or distribution of controlled substances, such as marijuana.

Under the new legislation, a medical patient could get a maximum of 6 ounces of marijuana every 30 days. The legislation is a complicated bill that regulates the entirety of the dispensary process. The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) would have to license dispensaries and establish registries of patients. Each patient prescribed medical marijuana would receive a photo ID from the DHMH, and would have to register to receive their medical marijuana from a single dispensary. DHMH would also regulate prices for the medical marijuana dispensed through the system, and would keep records on the system’s operation.
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The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled in a January opinion, Hill v. State, that when an interrogating police officer’s misleading discussion with a suspect was an improper inducement, and that any statement derived from that inducement had to be suppressed. In Hill, the interrogating officer told Hill, a suspect in a sex abuse case, that the victim’s family did not want to see the suspect get into any trouble, and “only wanted an apology.” The Court determined that, considering the officer’s statements it is “reasonable for a layperson in [the position of the suspect] to infer from the officer’s statement that the victim’s family, upon receipt of an apology, would either recommend to the prosecutor that criminal charges not be pursued or decline to participate in any prosecution.” Such Thus, the Court ruled that the statements Hill made in reliance on that inducement were improperly admitted, and granted the defendant a new trial.

The experienced Maryland criminal law attorneys at Brassel Alexander know the intricacies of the Maryland Rules of Evidence, including how to protect individuals facing criminal charges from the use of inadmissible evidence at trial.

In the Hill case, the investigating officer brought Hill into the station for questioning, and informed him that the victim’s family merely wanted an apology. The officer suggested that the family would not press charges if Hill would provide that apology. In response to the officer’s statements, Hill wrote a letter to the victim that included an apology. Prior to trial, the trial court ruled that, the officer did not improperly induce Hill to provide the statement because there was not a specific threat, promise, or inducement of state action, or a statement that there would not be any charges.

The Maryland Court of Appeals today reversed the murder conviction of Christian Darrell Lee because the detective interrogating him lied about whether their conversation was being recorded. Lee, who had been convicted of first degree murder in 2008 and sentenced to life plus 110 years, will now be granted a new trial, because of the violation of his Miranda rights.

Brassel Alexander’s experienced Maryland criminal defense attorneys represents individuals charged with all types of criminal offenses, including individuals charged with murder.

Lee asked Detective Steve Schrott, who was interrogating him, whether the conversation was being recorded. In response, the detective said that the conversation was “between you and me, bud.” The Court of Appeals found that Detective Schrott’s statement undermined the Miranda warning, the well-known statement of a criminal defendant’s rights deriving from the United States Supreme Court case, Miranda v. Arizona. The Court’s ruling is significant, because Lee had signed a waiver of his Miranda rights prior to the interrogation, and had begun to discuss the events on the night that he allegedly shot the murder victim.

MDCorrectionalAdjustmentCenter_Borea.jpg The Maryland Court of Appeals this month extended the right to a “missing evidence” jury instruction to criminal defendants, even absent a showing of bad faith by the State, in a decision that could have long-reaching effects on evidence practice in criminal cases in the state.

Brassel Alexander has significant experience in addressing evidentiary issues in criminal trials, including the insight of two former prosecutors. Our Maryland criminal law attorneys can protect the rights of individuals accused in any criminal matter.

The Court of Appeals’ decision came in the case of Ashanti Cost v. State, a case in which an inmate being held at the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center, a Supermax facility in Baltimore, was charged with stabbing another inmate. According to the State’s case, Cost, the defendant, grabbed the another inmate’s clothing through a food slot in a cell door, pulled the other inmate close, and then stabbed him with a six-inch long metal weapon that was similar to an ice pick. Michael Brown, the inmate Cost allegedly stabbed, testified that he bled all over his cell, covering the floor with blood and requiring towels to stop the bleeding. The State initially secured Brown’s cell and took photographs, but then allowed it to be cleaned. All of the potential evidence in the cell was discarded.

At trial, Cost presented an argument, supported by Brown’s medical records, that the injury was not severe. He suggested to the jury that the photographs of Brown’s cell did not actually show a floor coated with blood, but rather, melted red Jell-O. Based on the fact that the State had destroyed any evidence that was in the cell, Cost requested that the trial court give the jury an instruction that it was allowed but not required to infer that the missing evidence would be favorable to the defense. Cost’s request was denied, and although he was acquitted on most counts, he was found guilty of reckless endangerment.

Cost appealed, arguing that the missing evidence was vital to his case, and that he should be entitled to a missing evidence jury instruction, just as the State would have been entitled to had it been Cost that had destroyed evidence. The State countered that, under the United States Supreme Court’s holding in Youngblood v. Arizona, that because there was no evidence of bad faith on the part of the State, such an instruction was not warranted. The Court held that Cost was entitled to a jury instruction on missing evidence. The evidence, according to the Court, was highly relevant to Cost’s case, and was not cumulative or tangential. Under these circumstances, the Court held, a trial court judge is required to provide an instruction to the jury that the jury was permitted, but not required, to draw an inference that the missing evidence would have been unfavorable to the State.

The Court’s finding could have long-ranging effects in Maryland’s trial courts, as it is applied in other settings. For example, crime labs in Maryland and other states have at times lost or destroyed DNA evidence; under the holding in Cost, if the missing evidence is central to the case, a defendant would be entitled to a missing evidence instruction. The future development of this line of caselaw could have a major impact on criminal trials throughout Maryland, as the State is finally held on equal footing with criminal defendants when it comes to the preservation of evidence.
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court of appeals.jpg In an October 2010 decision, the Maryland Court of Appeals in Annapolis overturned the gun and drug convictions of a passenger in a car after determining that the police lacked reasonable suspicion to detain the individual while a drug dog was brought to the scene. The decision provides an important discussion of the extent of Fourth Amendment protection for individuals facing criminal charges, and how these rights can be protected by an experienced Maryland criminal law attorney.

Hayward T. Henderson was the passenger in a car on May 2, 2005 when the vehicle he was traveling in was pulled over for a minor traffic violation. The driver of the car was ticketed, and a second passenger in the car who had an outstanding warrant was arrested. In conjunction with the arrest of the second passenger, the second passenger was searched, and the police found drugs hidden in his hat. The police thereafter handcuffed Henderson, and detained him while a K-9 unit trained to detect drugs was brought to the scene. Notably, it took the K-9 unit between nine and twelve minutes to arrive on the scene. During the scan, a semi-automatic pistol was found in the car. At that point, all three individuals were placed under arrest.

The Court held that the detaining Henderson for between nine and twelve minutes was unreasonable, because there was no reasonably articulable suspicion on which to base his detention. Speaking for the Court, Judge Joseph F.Murphy, Jr. wrote, “[t]he Fourth Amendment protects occupants of automobiles against continued detentions based on less than reasonable articulable suspicion.”

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