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Court Report

Droning on and on about criminal activities

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The use of drones for all types of purposes has become widespread in the modern age. This has included, on occasion, their use in criminal activity. This is illustrated by an unreported opinion from Maryland’s intermediate appellate court this month in a case called Thaddeus Shortz v. State.

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When a police officer cannot offer testimony

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In recent years there have been a number of reported incidents of alleged police misconduct, a few of which have even led to criminal convictions of the former officer. Even without a criminal conviction, there have been instances where an officer’s conduct may make it impossible for the officer to testify in other cases. This can result in the officer losing his job, as illustrated by an unreported opinion this month from Maryland’s intermediate appellate court in a case called Carlton Brittingham, Jr. v. Cambridge Police Department.

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Power Plants and the power planted in courts

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It is not too often that Maryland’s highest Court is called upon to review the process for approval of facilities such as power plants. This month the Court of Appeals was called upon to do just that in an opinion called Accokeek, Mattawoman, Piscataway Creeks Community Council v. Public Service Commission.

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The prosecution appeals evidence suppression

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Ordinarily in criminal cases, the prosecution that loses a criminal case does not have the right to appeal, unless the trial Court prior to trial has granted a defense motion to suppress evidence.

What can happen when the State challenges a trial judge’s suppression of the key evidence in a criminal case is illustrated in an unreported opinion this month from Maryland’s intermediate appellate Court in a case called State of Maryland v. Jason Louis Friday.

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When the grandparents get custody

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The Courts go to great lengths to protect parental rights when making child custody decisions in divorce cases, with the presumption being that a parent should have custody of their child. Given the dynamics of modern family life, it is becoming more frequent that parties such as grandparents may ultimately be awarded custody. This is illustrated by an opinion this month from Maryland’s intermediate appellate court called Natasha Burak v. Mark Burak.

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'Hey I didn't do it - he did' defense

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In criminal cases, it is not unusual for the defendant to try to suggest that someone other than the defendant may have committed the crime. What is unusual is to try to call the other alleged potential perpetrator as a witness to try to suggest that person’s guilt. Such a scenario was explored by Maryland’s intermediate appellate Court in a recent case called Baldeo Taneja v. State.

The Court’s opinion indicates that in October 2013 Mr. Taneja’s ex-wife was shot down and killed in the street in Germantown. Witnesses heard gunshots, and then saw the victim fall in the street, and another woman running away. Police the next day arrested Taneja and his current wife Kaur in Tennessee, and found in their car a revolver that was proven to be the murder weapon. Taneja had purchased the gun 5 weeks before, and his DNA was found on the gun. Evidence was produced that Taneja and Kaur were in Maryland at the time of the shooting, and both were charged with murder and other charges.

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Defamation and the Burden of Proof

 

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Claims for damages for making false and defamatory statements have been the subject of much publicity recently. Such cases often involve public figures, and the requirement that to overcome First Amendment free speech protections the plaintiff bringing suit must prove actual malicious intent to make false statements.

What standards of proof apply in suits brought by private persons for defamation were explored by Maryland’s highest court in a case called Seley-Ratke v. Hosmane.

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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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