Court Report

Supervising probation agents

gavel2It is a common part of sentencing of a person convicted of a crime to require that the defendant agree to a period of  probation supervised by a probation officer after the defendant serves his or her original sentence, subject to additional jail time for violating probation.   What can happen when the defendant fails to comply with terms of probation  is illustrated by a recent case from the Court of Appeals entitled State of Maryland vs. Callahan.


Trials For Ongoing Gang Activities

gavel2Two areas of criminal activity that are much discussed at the present time are sexual assaults and gang related activity, which sometimes overlap. The State often has an interest when presenting criminal charges in including gang related charges with other crimes. How the Court handles such cases is illustrated by a recent case from Maryland’s intermediate appellate court called Andrez Cortez v. State of Maryland.

The Court’s opinion indicates that Mr. Cortez showed a co-worker a video on his cell phone of three men having sex with a woman who appeared to be “out of it.”  The co-worker recognized the voice providing commentary on the tape as the defendant, and he told his boss who called the police.  A search of the defendant’s apartment produced another similar video, and witnesses identified the voice as that of Mr. Cortez.

It was apparent from the video that that the videographer not only touched the victim himself, but made comments related to a particular gang and gang members. The Defendant admitted to the police that he had brought this gang to Montgomery County and was a member. The police identified the victim, who became very upset when shown the video. She said she had gone to a party and drunk some beer, but then became very sleepy. She awoke the next day to find she had been robbed, but was not even aware she had been sexually assaulted.

The State charged Cortez with three sex offenses, and also for participating in gang related activity. The defense attorney asked that the gang charge be set for a separate trial, arguing that the sex offenses were separate allegations and it was too prejudicial for the jury to also hear about a gang. The trial judge ordered one trial on all charges, and the defendant was convicted.  The appellate court upheld the decision to try the gang related charges with all the other crimes.

The Court noted that whether to order a separate trial on charges depends upon 1) whether the same evidence would be admissible in both trials, and 2) whether the interest of judicial economy in trying related charges from the same facts was outweighed by other considerations. Here, the Court found that gang related evidence was relevant to motive and identity of the defendant, and upheld holding one trial in this case. This illustrates how gang related charges may also support prosecution for related crimes.


Don't sell counterfeit DVDs dude

gavel2The movie industry not only has to worry about hackers  who may obtain copies of films and distribute them on the internet, as Sony recently experienced, but also the sale of counterfeit copies of DVDs.  Maryland has a statute criminalizing trademark counterfeiting, whose constitutionality was upheld last week in the State’s highest Court in a case called McCree v. State.


Don't Bogart that joint my friend

gavel2The effort in the District of Columbia to decriminalize marijuana has garnered much publicity and the attention of some members of Congress. Meanwhile, As of October 1 of this year, Maryland’s new law decriminalizing use or possession of marijuana went into effect which is likely not the end of efforts to change the Maryland law on cannabis use.


Beware of your property easements

gavel2As Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals said in its opinion last week in the case of  McClure v. Montgomery County Planning Board of MNCPCC, “few cases inflame such deep passions as a dispute involving individual property rights.”  This is particularly true when a person’s home is involved. This case illustrates the importance, when buying property, of the buyer making sure he is aware of any recorded rights someone else may have over the land.


Hospital not liable for not admitting

gavel2Maryland’s law on involuntarily admitting mentally disturbed persons to inpatient care was explored last week by the Court of Appeals, finally resolving the appeals in a case called Gineene Williams v. Peninsula Regional Medical Center. The Court upheld the decision of the intermediate appellate court, that the hospital was not liable for the tragic events that followed a decision not to admit a patient.


Long time identifying evidence

gavel2DNA evidence has become a powerful tool to determine whether persons convicted of crimes may have been wrongfully convicted. One problem with looking for such evidence is that the State may not have retained evidence for convictions that occurred long ago.  How the Courts handle this problem is illustrated by an opinion last week from Maryland’s highest Court called Steven Johnson v. State.

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