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Court Report

Police shootings and gross negligence

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There have unfortunately been many instances of police shootings in recent years, some of which have led to civil suits against the police. One example of how Maryland law addresses such cases is a recent unreported opinion from Maryland’s intermediate appellate Court called William Torbit, Sr. v. Baltimore City Police Department.

The Court’s opinion indicates that Baltimore City police officers were called to the scene of a nightclub, where fights had broken out inside. The police Major decided to close the club, and a fight then broke out in the parking lot. A man wearing dark clothing was knocked to the ground, then pulled a weapon and began shooting at a group of people. Four officers fired their weapons, killing the man in dark clothing and one other persons and wounding two others. It later turned out that the man in dark clothing was a plainclothes police officer.

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The effect of plea bargains on post conviction DNA testing

 

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Last week we discussed a Maryland statute that provides that a person convicted of certain violent crimes may petition the trial Court to order DNA testing of evidence of the crime used against the defendant.

The law requires courts to order such testing where applicable if there is a reasonable probability that such testing has the scientific potential to exonerate the defendant or mitigate the offense.

Whether the law applies where the case was resolved by a plea was decided in a case this week from Maryland’s Court of Appeals called William Todd Jamison v. State of Maryland.

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And now post conviction DNA testing

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Maryland has adopted a statute that provides that a person convicted of certain crimes may petition the trial Court to order DNA testing of evidence of the crime used against the defendant. What crimes the law applies to was the subject of an opinion filed this month by Maryland’s Court of Appeals called Trendon Washington v. State of Maryland.

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Murder for hire and battered spouses

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Maryland has a statute that permits the introduction of evidence in a criminal case that at the time of committing crimes including murder or manslaughter the defendant was suffering from battered spouse syndrome. The law defines the syndrome as a psychological condition of repeated physical and psychological abuse which is recognized in medicine and science. Whether the syndrome may be part of self-defense in a murder for hire case was explored in a recent 2-1 opinion from Maryland’s intermediate appellate court in the case of Karla Louse Porter v. State.

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The ultimate question for potential jurors

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The 6th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects a criminal defendant’s right to trial by an impartial jury. Part of the process to assure impartiality in a jury panel is the process of voir dire, whereby the trial judge asks questions of the prospective jurors to make sure they are qualified to serve, and to seek to uncover any reasons a juror could not be fair and impartial. One of the questions which must be asked, if requested, in a criminal case is the Defense Witness question.

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And it really is just money in the bank

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One of the legal tools law enforcement has available under Maryland law is the right to seek forfeiture to the government of the proceeds of illegal drug activity. One statute provides that within 90 days of seizure of tangible or intangible property, a petition can be filed for forfeiture of that property. Another provision of the law provides that within 90 days of the completion of criminal proceedings against a defendant, a petition may be filed to forfeit money. Maryland’s highest Court had the occasion to recently decide under this law just what constitutes “money,” in case called Daniela Bottini v. Department of Finance, Montgomery County.

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Sometimes you restrain the defendant

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A criminal defendant has a constitutional right to be present in the Courtroom during his criminal trial. The Courts have made it clear that placing the defendant in criminal restraints, particularly in front of a jury, is inherently prejudicial to the defense. However, there are circumstances in which the courts are justified in restraining a disruptive defendant, as illustrated by a recent opinion from Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals called Jeffrey Shiflett v. State of Maryland.

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Contending with the race problem

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Race continues to be an issue that the Courts must contend with. There is some research that suggests that persons of one race may have more difficulty in identifying persons of a race other than their own. How that may play a role in criminal cases was explored recently by Maryland’s intermediate appellate court in an unreported opinion called Marquel Gaffney v. State.

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Fight or flight and feelings of fright

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It may seem to be common sense that when the accused person flees the scene of a crime, a jury may consider that fact in deciding guilt. Maryland case law carefully defines, however, when a jury may consider flight as evidence of guilt. This is illustrated in a recent unreported opinion from Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals called Sharnieli Nathanial Bingham v. State.

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