Articles Posted in Evidence

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals issued a ruling last week in a case that could have long-reaching effects on police interrogation, overturning a trial court’s suppression of a Defendant’s statements based on a finding that he was not in custody when he incriminated himself. Although the case will surely be appealed, if the Court of Special Appeals’ ruling is upheld, a loophole in the requirement that police officers provide arrested individuals their “Miranda rights” has been expanded.

The rights protected by the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Miranda v. Arizona, have long been a bastion of protection for criminal defendants: these include, primarily, the right to not provide the police with self-inculpatory statements, and the right to representation by an attorney. The police know that when a suspect has an attorney representing him or her, the chances of obtaining incriminating evidence against that suspect drop off precipitously. Our experienced Annapolis criminal defense attorneys have the background necessary to protect these and other rights that criminal defendants have at their disposal.

handcuffs.jpg In State v. Thomas, the Defendant Thomas was interrogated at a police station regarding allegations that he had sexually assaulted his 14-year-old daughter. After a pre-trial suppression hearing, the trial court found that a reasonable person in the Defendant’s position – sitting in a police interrogation room with the door closed, albeit unlocked, and being questioned about having sex with his daughter – would not have felt free to leave. The trial court also determined that the detectives were not merely asking questions to determine what had happened; they were actively trying to develop a case against the Defendant. As the trial court stated, “[the detectives] were gathering evidence. ‘What did you do? Where was she touched? When did it start? How many times did you do it?’ And the argument is that Miranda warnings should not have been given?”

The trial court continued, “[a]t the end of the day, the query remains, what is wrong with giving people their Miranda rights? And I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it. As soon as defendants are given their Miranda warnings, they often lawyer up. And when they lawyer up, they don’t get the information that detectives want to get.”

The State appealed the evidence suppression under Section 12-302 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article of the Maryland Code, which permits interlocutory appeals under very limited circumstances. Following the appeal, the Court of Special Appeals overturned the trial court’s suppression. There are a number of factors that the Court had to weigh to determine whether the interrogation at the police station was “custodial.” These include:

when and where it occurred, how long it lasted, how many police were present, what the officers and the defendant said and did, the presence of actual physical restraint on the defendant or things equivalent to actual restraint such as drawn weapons or a guard stationed at the door, and whether the defendant was being questioned as a suspect or as a witness. Facts pertaining to events before the interrogation are also relevant, especially how the defendant got to the place of questioning whether he came completely on his own, in response to a police request or escorted by police officers. Finally, what happened after the interrogation whether the defendant left freely, was detained or arrested may assist the court in determining whether the defendant, as a reasonable person, would have felt free to break off the questioning.


The Court of Special Appeals determined that since the Defendant had driven himself at the station at the mere request, rather than demand, of the police officers, that there was no coercion on the part of the police in getting him to the station.
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gps.jpgNext month, in a case that has multiple connections to the State of Maryland, the Supreme Court of the United States will hear oral argument over whether the prolonged, warrantless use of a GPS tracking device is an unreasonable search precluded by the 4th Amendment of the United States Constitution. The case, United States v. Jones, could have far-reaching effects on the government’s ability to track its citizens without first obtaining a warrant based on probable cause.

The Jones case will have a direct impact on Maryland criminal jurisprudence. In 2008, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled in Stone v. State that the use of a GPS device without a warrant is consistent with the 4th Amendment and prior Supreme Court decisions. If the Supreme Court upholds the decision of the Circuit Court for the District of Columbia, Maryland search and seizure law will change. An Anne Arundel County attorney experienced in the application of the 4th Amendment to the State’s ever-increasing use of technology is essential to protect the rights of individuals whose constitutional rights have been violated.

In Jones, the DC police department obtained a warrant to place a GPS device on Jones’ Jeep, but the police installed the GPS device after the warrant had expired, and while the Jeep was in Maryland, outside of the jurisdiction of the DC court that authorized the warrant. The police thereafter tracked Jones’ movements for a month, including his visits to a suspected “stash house” in Fort Washington, Maryland. Based in part on the evidence obtained from the GPS tracking, Jones, an owner of a DC nightclub, was convicted of conspiracy and possession with intent to distribute over 5kg of cocaine, and over 50g of cocaine base.

The closest Supreme Court precedent to the issue before the Court is United States v. Knotts. In that case, the police placed a radio transmitter in a container of ether, and tracked the movements of an individual from a location in Minnesota to a secluded cabin in Wisconsin. The Supreme Court held that there was no reasonable expectation of privacy while driving on public roads, and thus the monitoring of those movements did not constitute a search.

The Circuit Court for the District of Columbia held that the tracking of Jones movements for an entire month constituted a search that implicated the 4th Amendment’s protections, despite the ruling of the Supreme Court in Knotts. The Circuit Court reasoned that the aggregation of an entire month’s worth of Jones’ movement was distinguishable from the tracking of a discrete trip that the Supreme Court considered in Knotts. The Court acknowledged that whether an expectation of privacy is reasonable depends in large part upon whether the “private” information has been exposed to the public, and that when an individual drives on a public road, his or her activities are “public.” The court nevertheless determined that “to track Jones’s movements 24 hours a day for 28 days as he moved among scores of places, thereby discovering the totality and pattern of his individual movements from place to place to place,” was distinct from merely tracking his “movements from one place to another.” As the Court stated, “the whole of one’s movements over the course of a month is not actually exposed to the public because the likelihood anyone will observe all those movements is effectively nil.” In other words, even if all of the movements were in public, an individual can reasonably expect that his or her movements are not all being tracked by the government by way of a hidden device on his or her vehicle.
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Following on the heels of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Bullcoming v. New Mexico which this blog addressed in June, and adopting the reasoning of that case, the Maryland Court of Appeals has upheld a criminal defendant’s right to confront the testimonial witnesses against him, in a case that could have long-reaching ramifications for cases relying on DNA evidence.

Our Maryland criminal defense attorneys are experienced with the use of DNA evidence in criminal trials, and can protect your rights if you are charged with a crime where the State is relying on DNA evidence. DNA evidence is an extremely complex issue, and necessitates the assistance of an attorney who is comfortable handling the evidentiary issues involved.

In Derr v. State, the Maryland Court of Appeals addressed whether the reports created by DNA analysts, without those analysts’ in-court testimony supporting those reports, was admissible into evidence. At trial, Derr was found guilty of a December 1984 rape. The State submitted into evidence three reports showing DNA analyses (dated 1985, 2002, and 2004), supported only by the testimony of a supervisory DNA analyst who had not been personally involved in the performing the forensic tests or creating the reports.

constitution.jpgThe Sixth Amendment provides that “[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to be confronted with the witnesses against him[.]” Similar language is found in Article 21 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights. As the Court of Appeals noted in Derr, the purpose of the protected right is two-fold: to provide the defendant with the opportunity for cross-examination, and to also provide the judge and jury the opportunity to observe the witness’ demeanor.

This right of a defendant to confront the witnesses the State uses against him or her is broader than simply the right to cross-examine the human witnesses that take the stand. As the Court of Appeals found in this case, the right also extends to situations where the State is using an out-of-court statement, such as a DNA analysis created in a lab. Such a statement, if used as the functional equivalent of in-court testimony, is called a “testimonial statement.” The Court held that “any statement made under circumstances which would lead an objective witness reasonably to believe that the statement would be available for use at a later trial,” is testimonial in nature. These DNA analysis reports were ruled to be testimonial statements. Under the Sixth Amendment, the defendant has the right to cross-examine the person who made the “testimonial” analysis. The Court ruled that the forensic evidence against Derr was inadmissible because the analysts who performed the tests of the evidence presented against him did not testify, and reversed his conviction.
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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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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, 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.

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.

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:

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.

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