Court Report

The homeless and sex offenders

gavel2Maryland’s intermediate appellate court last month again addressed Maryland’s sex offender registry.  The law in Maryland since 1995 has provided that persons convicted of certain sex offenses must register with law enforcement as a sex offender. The case of Reynaldo Rodriguez v. State addresses the law as it applies to homeless persons.


Flaws in comparative bullet analysis

gavel2A technique formerly used by the FBI called Comparative Bullet Lead Analysis (CBLA) was used as a forensic technique for many years to try to connect bullets found in a victim to other linked to a criminal defendant. CBLA analysis has been debunked and has led to reversals of many convictions,  and recently led to a writ of actual innocence being issued by Maryland’s intermediate appellate court in the case of Gary Ward v. State.


The problems with intent

gavel2To convict a defendant under Maryland law of first degree murder, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant in a premeditated way intended to and did kill the victim. Maryland’s interim appellate Court this week explored the circumstances under which a conviction for first degree murder may stand for killing an unintended victim, in a case called Bircher v. State.


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.

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