Jun 22, 2011

Preliminary Hearings in Maryland Criminal Cases

In the Maryland criminal justice system, a preliminary hearing may occur when a defendant is charged with one or more felonies. The practice in most other Maryland counties is to only schedule a preliminary hearing upon request of the defendant. Criminal defendants must make the request within ten days of the arrest or file a motion for good cause with a judge.

Preliminary hearings are conducted in the Maryland District Courts. If a judge finds probable cause, the case is sent (held over) to the Circuit Court for arraignment and possible trial. If the judge does not find probable cause that a felony has been committed by the defendant, then felony is dismissed. If a defendant is also charged with one or more misdemeanor, those charges remain and will be set for trial on another day at the District Court level.

Simply put, a District Court judge must find some link between the felony and the defendant. In most preliminary hearings in Maryland, the arresting officer will take the stand and read from his/her police report. The standard of review in a preliminary hearing is in the “light most favorable to the state”. In simple terms, the judge will give the prosecuting attorney the benefit of the doubt when determining if the defendant has committed the crime.

The defense attorney is permitted to ask limited questions pertaining to the facts. An experienced criminal defense attorney will try to obtain as much detail from the police officer, under oath, for use down the road at trial. For such reasons, holding a preliminary hearing may be useful to the defense-even if the judge does not dismiss the felony charge(s).

Often times a defendant will show up for court expecting a preliminary hearing, only to find that 1) the case has been indicted by a grand jury, 2) the prosecutor has exercised his/her discretion and dropped the felony(s), or 3) the entire case has been dropped (nolle pros) or placed on the stet docket (indefinite postponement). Often, an experienced criminal defense attorney can sway the prosecutor into dropping the charges even before the preliminary hearing is held.
For more information on a criminal defendant’s rights and the strategy of holding a preliminary hearing in Maryland, please contact the Law Offices of Gabriel J. Christian  & Associates, LLC at 301-218-9400 for a free consultation.

Jun 16, 2011

Be Aware - Texting while Driving is a crime in Maryland

List of New Laws in Maryland: DWI Consequences Influenced

As the month of October begins at full-speed, Maryland residents must become aware of new laws that have been introduced in the State. These new regulations are being enforced to help prevent crime and injury, especially when it comes to being behind the wheel. According to a times-news.com report, one of the new laws will affect those arrested for DWI. The new law states that within a span of five years, if a person hits their second DWI arrest, he or she will face an obligatory license suspension for one year.

According to the article, another new law that has taken affect in Maryland is an official ban against texting while driving. If you are convicted of texting while driving, you may face a steep fine of $400 in addition to having one point added to your driving record. Considering that the law will make exceptions for emergencies, cases involving texting and driving may present some complications given that one person’s definition of an emergency may differ from another’s.

In relation to the new DWI law, having your license suspended can impose many inconveniences in limiting your ability to secure timely and reliable transportation to and from work, school, and other important locations. To face the chance of enduring this penalty for an entire year can add to an experience that is already overwhelming when an individual is arrested for DWI.

If you have been arrested for DWI in Maryland, you don’t have to go through this challenging time alone. In many cases, those facing DWI charges find that they benefit from seeking the assistance of a skilled Maryland DWI defense lawyer with experience handling such cases. Aside from facing a one-year license suspension, other DWI consequences may involve multiple points on your driver’s license, hefty fines that may compromise your financial stability, and even a prison sentence.

Especially if you have prior DWI arrests or convictions, it may be in your best interest to contact a criminal defense attorney. One of the things a DWI defense attorney can do is conduct a thorough investigation of your arrest to determine if law enforcement followed proper procedure when stopping you and conducting sobriety tests. The charges against you may be reduced or even dropped if it is found that your rights were violated or if the officer failed to adhere to required procedure.

Jun 14, 2011

Domestic Violence - PASSED

Bills supported by WLC
    - 534/SB 329 - Domestic Violence - Protective Order - Extension allows a court to extend a protective order for up to two years if the respondent commits a subsequent act of abuse while the protective order is still in effect.
    - 1382/SB 554 - Rental Housing - Protection for Victims of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault provides protections for victims regarding their landlord/tenant relationships. The law provides that if the victim/tenant has obtained a final protective order or peace order, the victim may terminate the lease in order to relocate; the landlord must change the locks upon request of the victim at the victim's expense, and creates a rebuttable presumption that the victim is not in breach of the lease if the landlord is attempting to evict the victim for the behavior of the abuser.
    - 1149/SB 935 - Denial or Dismissal of Peace Order or Protective Order Petition - Shielding of Records allows a respondent in a protective order or peace order case that has been dismissed or denied to request the court to remove from judicary case search and other public access all records relating to the proceeding. Domestic violence advocates, judges and law enforcement officals would have access to the shielded records.  Although the Women's Law Center opposed the expungement of domestic violence records, this final version of this bill included important protections for victims.
    - 661 - Arrest - Violation of Protective Order provides that an officer shall arrest with or without a warrant for a violation of a protective order.
    - 905/SB 22 - Criminal Law - Prohibitions on Wearing, Carrying or Transporting Firearms - Exception establishes an exception to the prohibition against transporting a firearm for a respondent who is surrendering a weapon.
    - 60/SB 618 - Criminal Procedure - Violation by Child Sexual Offender of Pretrial and Posttrial Release No Contact Order ("Alexis's Law") allows the police to make a warrantless arrest if they have probable cause to believe the person has violated a no contact order in a crime against a minor.
    - 665- Prince George's County - Domestic Violence - GPS Tracking System Pilot Program for Offenders and HB 1336- Washington County - Domestic Violence - GPS Tracking System Pilot Program for Offenders authorize pilot projects in Prince George's and Washington Counties that will monitor domestic violence criminal offenders using GPS tracking systems.
    - 625 - Domestic Violence - Domestic Violence Central Repository requires the creation of a Domestic Violence Central Repository to store civil domestic violence orders.

Jun 13, 2011

Employment Law Update

The Maryland Whistleblower Act became effective July 1, 2003 and applies to any employer who discriminates against an employer who reveals any abuses of employer power, safety violations or gross mismanagement of money within the company. This act protects employees who disclose any injustice or safety hazards to legal authorities.

Family Law Status Update for Maryland

Changes in divorce grounds
A new law recently was passed in the Maryland General Assembly making a change in the grounds for divorce. Currently, Maryland has two "no-fault" grounds for divorce: a voluntary separation of one year, or a separation of two years. The new law eliminates the "voluntariness" requirement and allows divorce based on a separation of one year.