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A recent case from a Florida state court has created more discussion about controversial “stand your ground” laws. These laws are really just a smaller part of the larger criminal law question of what the self-defense rights are of someone who is attacked, and when someone can legally claim self-defense. 

The Right to Self Defense

In Maryland, as in most other states, there is a right to take whatever reasonable actions are necessary to protect ourselves and our family from physical violence. There must be a situation where someone would reasonably feel threatened, and the actions taken in self-defense must also be reasonable. The force used must also be proportional to the perceived risk.

In 2002, Maryland and Washington D.C. made national news when a pair of snipers terrorized the area, randomly killing citizens. The manhunt ended in the capture of two individuals, one an adult, and one, Lee Malvo, who was, at the time, a juvenile. The killing spree was considered one of the worst the nation had ever seen. The man was sentenced to death and executed in 2009, but the juvenile, Malvo, was sentenced to life in prison.

Juvenile Life Sentences Unconstitutional

In the years since Malvo’s conviction, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that sentences for life without parole—considered the most severe criminal sentence after capital punishment—are unconstitutional as applied to juveniles. The high court has determined that while juveniles can and should be held accountable for their crimes, there must be some avenue for potential release, no matter how severe the crime committed. Otherwise, the sentences violate the eighth amendment as cruel and unusual punishment.

A common belief is that in Maryland criminal law, all theft-type crimes are the same. Although words like burglary and larceny and embezzlement and theft are used interchangeably in our day-to-day life, in fact, they have different meanings, and apply in  different situations.

Embezzlement

Embezzlement is perhaps the most different from the group. Most theft-type crimes require that the accused take possession of property by force, or without permission. In common terms, the items must be “stolen.” In many cases, someone can legally have possession of an item, but retain the item wrongfully, or use the item in a way that exceeds or violates the scope of why the person was entrusted with it in the first place. The person does not have to intend to steal anything at the time he or she takes possession of the item.

The law is often criticized for being too dependent on technicalities, and on the minute details of the meaning of every word to the extent that common sense is thrown out the window. Often, that is not true; laws often follow common sense and are interpreted squarely with fairness and justice. But every now and again, there is a law that is so poorly written, that the correct legal decision is often an incorrect decision when it comes to fairness.

Technicality Prevents Prosecution

Such is the case with a law that has recently been changed in Maryland when it comes to the obligations that drivers have towards pedestrians. The change was spurred by the death of a man who was on a bicycle and was hit by a car. The bicyclist was legally crossing the street in the right place. One car stopped at the intersection legally, but in the other lane, a speeding car hit and killed the cyclist.

There is always a delicate line to tow in order to balance the need for police officers to be able to do their job and protect themselves and us with the need for private citizens to be able to sue when police overstep boundaries. A recent Supreme Court case may have made it more difficult for victims to file lawsuits against police when they break into private citizen’s homes wrongfully.

Shooting in Private Residence Leads to Suit

In 2010, police were called to a home of someone believed to be armed and dangerous. They entered the property without a warrant and noticed a shed or shack in the back of the home. The officers approached it. They entered the shed, startling a man who was living there at the time and sleeping inside of it. The man, startled, had a BB gun, reached for it, and the officers shot him.

Often the most difficult kinds of legal cases to resolve are those in which the constitutional rights of multiple criminal defendants interfere with, or contradict one another. This unique situation usually only occurs when there are multiple defendants accused of participating in the same crime, and they are set to be tried together, before the same jury.

Two Defendants Tried Together

In 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court was confronted with a unique question. Two defendants were being tried together for participating in the same crime. Of course, they both held a Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and refuse to testify in court, which they exercised.

Sometimes, you can see a potential legal dispute brewing on the horizon. We have written extensively about courts having to deal with constitutional issues when it comes to cell phones, GPS devices, and even black boxes inside vehicles.

Now, New York, and likely other states, are attempting to introduce new legislation that would potentially broaden law enforcement’s ability to determine if a driver was texting at the time of an accident. The technology is too new to have spawned any lawsuits yet, but it is a matter of time before the constitutional issues that surround it get raised in court.

How the Device Works

A court in Florida has made a unique ruling on a constitutional issue that is likely to become widespread in Maryland and throughout the nation. Once again, it appears that courts will start struggling with how to interpret constitutional criminal law, with modern trends in technology.

What is a Black Box?

The case involves whether police can search and seize a car’s black box. You may have heard of an airplane’s black box. It is literally a small box that collects vital data on an airplane’s speed, trajectory, and all major operations that are happening. In case of a crash, the box usually survives intact and can be retrieved for investigators to piece together how the accident happened.

In almost every job application, every licensing request, and seemingly every application for anything, is the question of whether the applicant has ever been convicted of a crime. The question seemingly has value; a potential employer or licensing agency wants to know if someone has a background of which they should be aware.

There is a continuing belief that convictions that occur in someone’s past should not continue to haunt his or her throughout his or her life because as time goes on, the correlation between a conviction for certain crimes and someone’s moral fitness becomes more and more attenuated. That is coupled with the realization that the inability to get work or advance someone’s career leads to higher rates of recidivism.

Colleges May Not be Able to Ask Conviction Question

Unmarked cars serve a vital purpose in law enforcement and can often prevent crime or injury before it even happens. Unlike normal police cars, which drivers are often on the alert for, unmarked cars can sneak up on others on the road and can create a risk of accidents during high speed pursuits.

City Settles Chase Lawsuit

The City of Baltimore is now about to pay a settlement amount of $500,000 to resolve a lawsuit arising from three deaths that occurred during a 2013 high speed chase involving an unmarked police car. The accident occurred when a suspect for drug distribution, who was being pursued by the unmarked cars, collided with the victim’s car at around 100 miles per hour. Three people in the victim’s vehicle were killed.