May 2012 Archives

Maryland Robbery Victim Reports Stolen Marijuana To Police

May 30, 2012

231490_skunk_dog.jpgA Maryland man was recently the victim of an armed robbery in his home in College Park. Amongst the property the man reported stolen to the police was about $600 of rent money and the man's stash of marijuana. Yes, you heard that correctly. The College Park man reported to police that the robbery suspects were armed with handguns and had demanded that the man turn over his money and his drugs. The robbery suspects reportedly assured the man that he would not be in any danger if he complied with the request to give up his money and his marijuana. A nice gesture by the armed home invasion robbers, but a gesture that will certainly not help the suspects in court if they are ever arrested. The Maryland man complied and handed over his rent money and an unknown quantity of marijuana, and then the robbery suspects left the house. Police also reported that the armed robbery suspects took laptops and cell phones from the house, but the Maryland man was not aware of this missing property at the time he initially reported the crime to police.

As unbelievable as it may seem, theft, burglary, and robbery victims often report to police that their drugs have been stolen. Drugs such as marijuana and cocaine are certainly properties hat have value to the owners, and the owners of these drugs feel wronged if they are stolen. On the other hand, calling the police to report stolen drugs will never benefit the owner of the drugs in his or her quest to get the drugs back. If police do happen to locate the stolen property, they will simply confiscate the drugs and place them in an evidence locker or destroy them. At least this is what police are supposed to do with the drugs they confiscate, but criminal lawyers tend to hear numerous stories about police keeping the drugs for themselves or even selling them back to the original owners. Reporting stolen illegal drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and pills also creates numerous other legal questions, such as whether someone who reports stolen illegal drugs can be arrested for possession of drugs, or whether someone who steals illegal drugs can be arrested for theft of drugs.

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Should Maryland Adopt Blood Marijuana Limits For DWI?

May 24, 2012

75579_drunk_driving.jpgWe have all heard of the term drunk driving, as DUI is one of the most common crimes in Maryland. In fact, DUI is one of the most common crimes in the entire country, as police make nearly 1.5 million DUI arrests per year in America. But what about drugged driving? Driving while under the influence of a drug such as marijuana is technically illegal in Maryland, but under Maryland law there are no definitive drug testing procedures for DUI. Under Maryland law you can be convicted of DWI with a blood alcohol concentration of .07 to .08, and for DUI with a blood alcohol concentration over .08. While these standardized numbers are somewhat arbitrary because everyone feels the effects of alcohol in different ways, the standardized numbers do provide at least the image of consistency and uniformity in DUI prosecutions. On the other hand, Maryland law does not indicate specific levels of drug concentration in the blood that would define driving while under the influence of drugs. If a police officer suspects someone is driving under the influence of drugs and not alcohol the officer can request the suspect to submit to a drug test. The question has been and will continue to be- what exactly do the results of a drug test tell us with respect to DWI?

If a person is arrested for DWI and submits to a drug test a positive result will be used against that person in court, but that drug test really tells us very little about the person's impairment at the time he or she was driving. Marijuana can stay in a person's system for weeks, and thus a positive marijuana test would have little probative value in court and a huge prejudicial effect on the defendant. Even a positive cocaine test would offer little probative value in court, as cocaine can stay in the system for days. Why should a jury be entitled to see evidence that a DUI defendant tested positive for cocaine when the defendant took the cocaine 2 days prior to the DUI arrest? The same goes for prescription medications such as painkillers like oxycodone and Vicodin or anti anxiety pills like Xanax and Valium. At least one state is currently addressing this issue, as Colorado lawmakers are debating whether to pass a law that quantifies the amount of marijuana that a person can legally have in his or her blood in order to avoid a conviction for DUI.

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Maryland Traffic Stop Turned Heroin Bust Presents Legal Issues

May 21, 2012

659428_x.jpgA routine traffic stop over the weekend led Maryland police to nearly 100 grams of heroin as well as a forged oxycodone prescription. The traffic stop took place in Annapolis and resulted in the arrest of 3 Maryland residents for various criminal offenses including drug possession, theft, and drug possession with intent to distribute. Although the traffic stop was routine, the events that followed the stop and led police to the drugs were hardly routine, and could raise multiple legal issues. Annapolis police stopped the bright green Lincoln at around 5 p.m. for an undisclosed traffic violation. The undisclosed traffic violation could be for anything from a broken taillight to failure to stop at a stop sign but chances are that the bright green car caught the eye of the Annapolis cops. As many criminal lawyers know, when a car raises red flags police typically will not wait for a traffic infraction to occur before making a traffic stop. Rather they will make the stop and then figure out a believable traffic infraction later.

After Annapolis police made the traffic stop they approached the vehicle and learned that the driver was driving with a suspended license. Police also discovered that the passenger had three outstanding criminal bench warrants for his arrest. Right there, the police had probable cause to arrest both occupants of the car, which they did. Search incident to arrest also allowed police to search the vehicle, and this led police to an unlabeled bottle filled with Percocet and a digital scale. Percocet is a brand name prescription drug consisting of a combination of 5 to 10 mgs of the narcotic oxycodone, and 500 mgs of acetaminophen. Police also searched the passenger incident to his arrest and found a stolen oxycodone prescription in his pocket. The driver was charged with 2 crimes, driving on a suspended license and drug possession, while the passenger was charged with theft. Both were arrested, and legally speaking it appears that arrests of the passenger and driver will hold up in court. The heroin bust did not directly involve the stopped green Lincoln or the passenger and the driver of the Lincoln. Rather, the heroin arrestee was a woman who approached the Lincoln while police were conducting their investigation. The circumstances surrounding the heroin arrest appear to have legal issues.

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Can You Video Record A Police Officer Making An Arrest In Maryland?

May 18, 2012

1046822_little_video_camera_operating_1.jpgVideo recording police officers making arrests, writing traffic citations, or even interacting with citizens in non criminal settings has been a hot topic in the last few years throughout Maryland, and especially in Baltimore City. Many police departments around the country have dashboard cameras which record traffic stops, DUI arrests, and even automobile searches for weapons and drugs such as marijuana and cocaine. However, in Maryland most police departments do not record their officers' interactions with civilians, and even with automatic dash dams the majority of police and civilian interactions go unrecorded. As a result, police officers have little checks on their power and can abuse their authority when interacting with civilians. In recent years though the public has fought back with an unlikely weapon, using cell phones to keep police officers under raps.

Almost every cell phone sold in America has a camera, and citizens fed up with police abuse of power are using these cameras as a check on police behavior. Countless abusive police interactions have shown up on YouTube, and an abundance of civil lawsuits have been filed by lawyers against police departments. Not surprisingly, police officers in Baltimore City and other jurisdictions in Maryland have not taken a liking to this new trend. There have been various documented incidents of police officers becoming angry upon seeing that they are being recorded by civilians, and some of these incidents end up in an illegal arrest not for committing a crime, but for simply documenting an officers actions. This issue has garnered national media attention and in the past year a civil lawsuit against the Baltimore City police caught the eye of the United States Department of Justice or DOJ.

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D.C. Agrees To Settle False DUI Conviction Lawsuits

May 14, 2012

1384588_brown_envelope_money_bribe_1.jpgThe city of Washington D.C. has agreed to settle four civil lawsuits over false DUI convictions. The civil claims for damages were filed back in 2010 by 4 men whose DUI convictions were tainted by inaccurate breath alcohol testing machines. The city has agreed to pay a total of $20,000 plus attorney's fees to the 4 plaintiffs. Two of the plaintiffs will receive $5000, and the other two will receive $8,000 and $2,000 respectively. The lawsuit alleged that city officials and police were aware that the breath alcohol testing machines were flawed, but continued to use them in criminal DUI prosecutions. As early as 2008 an independent expert informed the city that their breath alcohol machines were not providing accurate results for a variety of reasons. The machines used in D.C. are similar to the Intoxilyzer machines used in Maryland, and require regular maintenance and calibration. D.C. officials failed to do either, but that does not even tell half the story of the city's dishonest and fraudulent behavior.

Not only did Washington D.C. officials choose to ignore their independent expert's advice to maintain and calibrate the machines, they also continued to proffer to the courts that the machines had been tested. Thus trained breath technicians at the Attorney General's office deliberately mislead the court during criminal DUI prosecutions. City officials and the Attorney General also failed to disclose their knowledge of the Intoxilyler's inaccuracy to the defendants and their criminal defense lawyers via the city prosecutor's office. It is unknown whether prosecutors were aware of the Intoxilyzer inaccuracies, but if they were and failed to disclose this exculpatory "Brady" evidence, then the city prosecutors would have committed an egregious ethical violation. In summary, the city neglected to maintain their alcohol testing machines after being told to do so, failed to disclose their knowledge of the machine's inaccuracies, and then willfully and intentionally lied about both. Even more disturbing is the direct effect that this dishonest behavior had on the named DUI defendants.

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Can Intentionally Throwing At A Batter Be A Crime In Maryland?

May 9, 2012

images-1.jpegOn Sunday night in Washington D.C., Nationals 19 year old baseball phenom Bryce Harper came up to bat in the bottom of the first inning. Veteran Phllies pitcher, Cole Hamels then proceeded to throw his first pitch directly at the lower back of Harper. Harper bent over in obvious pain for a few seconds, trotted off to first base, and then scored the first run of the game a few pitches later. After the game, the veteran pitcher admitted that he purposely threw the pitch in Harper's direction, and fully intended to hit him. Hamels stated that throwing at Harper was his way of welcoming the rookie sensation to the major leagues. The commissioner of baseball however was not impressed with Hamels' actions nor his honesty, and suspended the pitcher for 5 games.

The main issue up for debate throughout the country is whether Hamels' actions hurt his team, and whether the suspension was deserved. But this being a Baltimore criminal lawyer blog, and not a sports blog, the relevant issue is whether the pitcher could be subject to criminal charges for his actions. The day after the incident, a Los Angeles prosecutor called ESPN radio's Colin Cowherd and angrily boasted that if it were up to him, the pitcher would be facing felony aggravated assault with a deadly weapon charges. The overzealous L.A. prosecuting lawyer argued that the pitcher would have no defense to the criminal charges because he confessed, and summarily convicted the pitcher of a felony on the air. There are two reasons why this prosecutor is entirely off base, one being legal and the other being ethical.

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Marijuana Possession Penalties Reduced In Maryland

May 7, 2012

1380109_the_maryland_state_house.jpgThe Maryland Legislature recently passed a bill that will lower the maximum penalty for possession of marijuana from 1 year in jail to 90 days in jail. Maximum fines for marijuana possession will also drop from $1000 to $500. The bill was signed into law by Governor O'Malley and will go into effect in October of 2012. The Maryland marijuana bill only applies to simple possession of less than 10 grams of the plant, a compromise between the two legislative chambers. The Maryland Senate wanted the new bill to apply to possession of any amount less than 14 grams of marijuana, or one half ounce, but the Maryland House wanted reduced punishments only for less than 7 grams, or one quarter ounce of marijuana. The Maryland law makers eventually agreed on the 10 gram limit, and the bill easily passed both chambers by a vote of 41-5 in the Senate, and 92-31 in the House.

Maryland law makers have recently been focused on streamlining the judicial system, and the marijuana bill appears to be a small step in that direction. According to the FBI, Maryland police officers made nearly 24,000 marijuana arrests in 2010. Many of the resulting criminal marijuana cases can linger for months in Maryland circuit courts, because defendants who face more than 90 days in jail are entitled to a circuit court jury trial. Only a fraction of these circuit court cases are actually tried in front of a jury. Criminal defense lawyers, and the defendants themselves are aware that these cases often end up being dismissed or reduced after months of stagnation in circuit court. The theory that good things happen to those that wait out their criminal cases is often true for defendants, but the judicial system ends up bearing the burden, and has become increasingly and unnecessarily bogged down.

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Baltimore Police Not Meeting Terms of False Arrest Settlement

May 3, 2012

7412_light_street-1.jpgThe Baltimore Police department has not been meeting the terms of a settlement regarding illegal arrests according to the ACLU. The settlement arose out of a 2006 lawsuit, which alleged a pattern of thousands of unlawful arrests for various non violent, low level crimes such as drug possession, trespassing, and loitering in Baltimore City. The civil lawsuit was filed by the ACLU on behalf of 14 people that were arrested in Baltimore without probable cause. The lawsuit stated that due to Baltimore City's zero tolerance policy, Baltimore police officers began unlawfully arresting people on the street at an alarming rate.

In 2005, after the Mayor O'Malley enacted the zero tolerance policy, Baltimore police made nearly 110,000 arrests. A majority of these arrests were for minor offenses such as trespassing, loitering, or drug possession. Baltimore prosecuting lawyers never filed charges in many of these criminal cases because the Baltimore police officers simply had no justification for making the arrests in the first place. To make matters worse, Baltimore police officers frequently neglected to indicate their observations used to determine probable cause in these arrests. The most important function of an arrest report is indicating probable cause for an arrest so that a first appearance judge can determine a bond, or if the arrestee is entitled to release. Including probable cause observations in an arrest report is a basic law enforcement skill, which all police officers learn in the police academy.

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Maryland Court Bans Police DNA Sampling Upon Arrest

May 1, 2012

1010760_dna_1.jpgA recent Maryland Court of Appeals decision has declared that it is an unconstitutional invasion of privacy for police officers to obtain DNA samples from arrested individuals absent a criminal conviction. It has previously been the standard practice of the Maryland State Police and other police departments around the state to obtain DNA samples from any suspect charged with burglary, and certain violent crimes such as assault, rape, homicide, and aggravated assault. Under the recent ruling, Maryland police departments must now wait until prosecuting lawyers secure a criminal conviction before they can legally obtain DNA samples from a defendant. The ruling by the Maryland Court of Appeals overturned the 2009 rape conviction of Alonzo Jay King Jr. when the court concluded that DNA samples that led to King's rape conviction were the fruits of an illegal seizure pursuant to the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. King's DNA sample was obtained after he was arrested for an unrelated assault case. The high court ruling has had an immediate impact upon law enforcement, as the Maryland state police department, headquartered in Pikesville, Maryland, has already instructed its employees to suspend DNA sampling of arrested suspects.

Despite the recent high court decision, some Maryland police departments originally went on record saying that they would continue their policies of sampling certain criminal suspects upon arrest. The Baltimore County police department and the Ann Arundel County police department had planned to wait on a decision as to whether the ruling would be appealed before halting their DNA sampling policies. In addition, the Baltimore City police department and the Howard County police department did not immediately suspend their DNA sampling policies, but rather were waiting specific instructions from the Maryland state public safety department, who is responsible for the sampling in those jurisdictions. These police departments did back down from their initial reluctance to follow the Maryland Court of Appeals ruling, and have now joined the state police in directing employees to suspend DNA sampling upon arrest.

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