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The Norwood Case and Miranda

 

police car in front of capital oneWe have all seen on television shows like “Elementary” the scene in the police interview room where the detective interrogates a suspect, only a few of whom seem to think of refusing to talk and asking for a lawyer. The first round of appeals in the Norwood case, involving the Bethesda murder of a co-worker where the defendant then claimed she was also a victim, addresses when in the interrogation process the accused must be given her Miranda warnings that her statements may be used against her and she has the right to counsel.

The sensational and much reported facts of the case involved a violent encounter at a Bethesda store, which resulted in the defendant lying on the floor apparently tied up near the body of her co-worker. The victim had been stabbed 331 times, and the defendant claimed two assailants had assaulted them and robbed the store. After interviewing the defendant four times and investigating other evidence, the police concluded that Norwood had killed the victim, altered the scene to try to cover her tracks and tied herself up to support her story. A Montgomery County jury convicted Norwood of first degree murder and she was sentenced to life without parole.

On appeal, the defense attorneys challenged the admission of a video of a March 16 interview with the police and part of a March 18 interview. During those encounters with the police no Miranda warnings were given to Norwood. Those warnings must be given when the defendant 1) is in police custody and 2) subject to interrogation. One of the issues in this case was at what point Norwood was “in custody” so as to require that her Miranda rights be read to her, which the courts have said is determined by reviewing the totality of the circumstances.

The Court of Special Appeals reviewed the video and transcript of the March 16 police, interview agreed with the trial judge that the defendant was not in custody during that visit to police headquarters. It noted that Norwood appeared voluntarily along with her two siblings. She spoke to the police casually and in a calm and friendly manner. The doors to the interview room were open, and she was allowed to use the rest room and could have left at any time. At the end of the interview she was allowed to leave with her sibling. The March 18 interview occurred at Norwood’s request, because she advised the police there was additional information she wanted to provide. The Court agreed that it was only near the end of that session when she appeared uncomfortable, and when asked to leave was told she could probably leave in a few minutes, that she was in custody and Miranda warnings should have been given.

 

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The rights of those arrested in riots

joseph kent manning his lineThe recent rioting in Baltimore related to the Freddie Gray tragedy taxed not only the police but the court system as well. Hundreds of people were arrested, which made it impossible to process them all in a timely manner. This situation raised constitutional issues, as reported in the Daily Record and elsewhere, that were dealt with this week by the Circuit Court for Baltimore City.

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And now the new police body camera

scales of justiceAs was widely reported, Governor Hogan announced in the wake of the Freddie Gray tragedy and unrest in Baltimore, that he would sign into law a statute recently passed by the Maryland legislature specifically authorizing the use of body cameras by police. The use of such cameras in other states has been a matter of some controversy over privacy concerns, and some Maryland jurisdictions had reportedly already obtained the technology. This is what the new law, enrolled as House Bill 533, provides.

The bill defines a “body-worn digital recording device” as “a device worn on the person of a law enforcement officer that is capable of recording video and intercepting oral communication.” It refers also to an “electronic control device” which apparently can also do such recording, which include a taser or “portable device designed as a weapon capable of injuring immobilizing and inflicting pain on an individual by discharging electrical current.” Subject to the conditions of the remainder of the bill, the new Courts Article section provides that “it is lawful under this subtitle for a law enforcement officer in the course of the officer’s regular duty to intercept an oral communication” with one of these devices.

The law then sets forth conditions under which such recording is lawful. It requires that the officer is in uniform or prominently displaying a badge. It requires that the officer comply with standards, to be adopted pursuant to a new provision of the Public Safety law, for use of these devices. The officer must also be a party to the oral communication, and must notify the individual as soon as possible (unless it is unsafe, impractical or impossible to do so) that the individual is being recorded. The oral recording must also be made as part of a videotape or digital recording. The law is clearly an exception to Maryland’s wiretap laws, which generally require (subject to exceptions) that both parties to an oral conversation consent to it being recorded.

The bill provides under the Public Safety Article that the Maryland Police Training Commission (MPTC) by January 1, 2016 come up with a published policy for the issuance and use of body-worn cameras, including a host of subjects including when recording is mandatory or prohibited, testing procedures on the equipment, and review, use and retention of recordings. It also establishes a Commission made up of legislators, law enforcement representatives, attorneys, and other groups to come up with recommendations to the MPTC by October 1, 2015 for best practices for use of body cameras by law enforcement. Test programs are authorized that are not subject to these forthcoming procedures. It will be interesting to see what policies are adopted to try to balance the purpose of such devices with the public’s privacy interests.

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The "dying declaration" is admissable

gavel2Ordinarily in Maryland the prosecution cannot appeal decisions of a trial judge against the State in a criminal trial. Last week Maryland’s highest Court affirmed a decision of the intermediate appellate court that an appeal of  a trial judge’s decision not to admit a “dying declaration” was appealable, and agreed that the evidence should have been admitted at trial. The case is called Jermaine Hailes v. State.

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Anonymous internet postings and trouble

gavel2There are many websites these days that allow consumers or others to post comments or reviews about such things as restaurants, hotels, or other businesses. Even when such postings are anonymous, however, statements that may allegedly be false and defamatory may lead to efforts to find out who posted the comments so they can be sued.

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Prepare to get spammed

gavel2All of us have been frustrated by the receipt of unsolicited email of “SPAM”. Maryland in 2002 enacted the Maryland Commercial Electronic Mail Act (MCEMA) to prohibit the sending of “unauthorized, false or misleading information.”  The limits of how this law can be used to try to prevent unwanted SPAM are illustrated by a case last month from Maryland’s intermediate appellate court called Jeffrey Walton v. Network Solutions.

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Making a false bomb threat is still illegal

gavel2In this age of potential terrorism, all of us take very seriously a statement or threat made by anyone regarding any type of explosive device. Maryland has a specific statute criminalizing that behavior, as illustrated by a recent opinion from Maryland’s intermediate appellate Court called Gary Ross Latray v. State.

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