Articles Posted in Sixth Amendment

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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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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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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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 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.

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