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Proposed bill on past sex assault evidence fails

gavel2 1 Every legislative session of course includes bills, some that were part of the Governor’s legislative agenda, which are not passed by the General Assembly. Often such proposals are brought back in succeeding years, and this year’s legislative session was no exception. This session saw failure of a proposal that would allow evidence of past sexual crimes under certain circumstances.

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Here comes another parade of partisans

gavel2 1 Courts often struggle in cases involving domestic violence with whether evidence of similar past conduct should be admitted. The Legislature in recent years has considered changes in the law to allow in such evidence. What happens when a criminal defendant puts his own character on trial was explored in a recent opinion from Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals called Harold Eugene Williams v. State.

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When does the victim becomes the accused?

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Courts frequently are called upon in criminal cases to decide at what point a person is in custody or under arrest so that he is required to be read his “Miranda” rights and told of the right to remain silent and to have an attorney present during questioning.
Sometimes that line is quite blurry, as illustrated by a case last month from Maryland’s highest Court called Terrance Brown v. State of Maryland.
The majority opinion in this 5- 2 decision indicates that Brown called 911 indicating he had been injured, and when State Police found him they took him to the hospital with multiple gunshot wounds. Several hours later, police came to the hospital and took Brown to the police station, after assuring him he was not under arrest and they saw him as the victim.
They told him they wanted to question him about the incident, but that they would accommodate him if he wanted to leave.
After six minutes of questioning in which Brown allegedly made statements placing himself at the scene of a fatal shooting, they advised him of his Miranda rights.
Brown was charged with first degree murder.

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Judges determine life without parole

gavel2 1 When the Maryland General Assembly in 2013 abolished the death penalty, it amended certain statutes to accomplish that. This included a provision for the trial judge to hold a hearing, after appropriate notice from the State, to determine whether to impose a sentence for first degree murder of life imprisonment, or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. It left intact another provision about what may happen if this issue was submitted to a jury that did not impose the death penalty. Maryland’s Court of Appeals has now clarified that it is the trial judge who makes the decision whether to impose life without parole, in a case called Darrell Bellard v. State of Maryland.

The opinion indicates that the case involved a horrendous crime where two women and two children were murdered by being shot in the head. Bellard was a drug dealer from Texas, who admitted to being angry with one of the women. He eventually confessed to the shootings. The prosecution filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty, but before the case went to trial the legislature changed the law to abolish death as a possible sentence. The State then filed a notice changing its request to life without parole.

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Balancing the social media fix

 

gavel2 1 The Courts have made it clear that public employees do not give up all their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech when they make statements on matters in the public interest. However, those rights are balanced against the government’s interest in controlling the operation of its workforce. How these principles fit into today’s social media world was explored in an opinion last week from the federal 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in a case called Kevin Patrick Buker v. Howard County.

The opinion indicates that Buker was battalion chief with the Howard County Fire Department, which in their chain of command placed him below the fire chief and his assistants and deputies. The Department in 2012 published social media guidelines, which prohibited personnel “from posting or publishing any statements, endorsements, or other speech…which could reasonably be interpreted to represent or undermine the views or positions of the Department…or interpreted as discriminatory, harassing, defamatory, racially or ethnically derogatory, or sexually violent” which may put the Department in disrepute of negatively impact its mission. The Department also adopted a Code of Conduct barring conduct through actions or words disrespectful to or undermining the Chain of Command.

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Drug users as competent witnesses

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It is up to a trial judge to make the determination during trial as to whether a witness is competent to be a witness.
Last week, for the first time, a Maryland appellate Court was called upon to decide whether a witness who admitted taking heroin on the morning she testified was competent to testify.
The case is called Jesus Garduno Cruz v. State.
The opinion from the Court of Special Appeals indicates that the sole issue on appeal involved the testimony of the victim who was the main witness at trial.
She testified that the defendant kidnapped her, drove her to a field and raped her at gunpoint. She said the fought with the defendant and escaped, and there was physical evidence admitted proving the sexual assault.
On cross-examination, the victim admitted that she was a heroin addict and a prostitute.
She also admitted that she had used heroin at 6:30 that morning.

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Maryland need not honor Virginia

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There has been much discussion about efforts taken in Virginia to restore the legal rights of convicted felons, including the right to vote as well as the right to possess firearms. Recently those rights in Maryland were explored by the federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of James Hamilton v. William Pallozzi.

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‘Hey I didn’t do it - he did’ defense

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The courts are frequently called upon in criminal cases to determine whether a search by the police violated a defendant’s 4th Amendment constitutional protection from unreasonable searches and seizures. Many of these cases involve a search where no warrant was involved, but sometimes the warrant itself may be at issue. This is illustrated by an unreported opinion this month from Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals in a case called Hector Colon v. State.

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Court of Appeals Adopts New Bail Rules

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Last week Maryland’s Court of Appeals unanimously decided to adopt new rules to change the way bail is set when a person charged with a crime comes before a judicial officer. This follows extensive publicity and discussion as to whether poor people who cannot afford to post bail were disproportionately having to remain in jail pending trial.

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