Criminal charges in Maryland can be extremely serious. If you are convicted of a crime, you could face long-term penalties, such as fines that could take years to pay off or jail time that could mean months or years in lockup. If you have been charged with a crime, it is important to work with a criminal defense lawyer.
The Maryland criminal defense lawyers at Rice, Murtha & Psoras represent the accused and work to fight the charges against them and dropped and dismissed. If we have to, we can even take your case to court and fight the charges against you at trial. To set up a free legal consultation on your case, call our Maryland criminal attorneys today at (410) 694-7291.
When Do I Need a Criminal Defense Attorney for Charges in Maryland?
If you have been charged with a crime or you believe you will be charged with a crime, you need a criminal defense attorney. Criminal charges can lead to very serious penalties, including time in jail or prison and high fines. Some crimes, like DUI, could lead to license suspension. Others, like rape or sexual assault, could lead to registration as a sex offender. Criminal activity, especially in cases of domestic violence, could also lead to restraining orders/protective orders and other restrictions.
If you have been charged with a crime, now is the time to call a lawyer. It is important to have an attorney represent you from the start. There will be important stages early in your criminal case where an attorney can step in to limit the information that the police can get from you, fight to prevent evidence from being taken, and work to limit the initial charges you face. We can also help you with preliminary stages of your case, like the arraignment, and help you understand how your case will proceed.
What Does a Criminal Defense Attorney Do in Criminal Cases in Maryland?
A criminal defense attorney defends and advises a defendant throughout their criminal case. A criminal defense lawyer may be involved before the individual is charged with a crime or retained after the individual is charged. In addition to advising the defendant, a criminal defense attorney also investigates the facts of the case and determines where the holes in the prosecution’s case will be.
Your lawyer will prepare motions and arguments that may be presented to the court. Your attorney will also prepare the case for trial if necessary.
Throughout the case, your lawyer will also advocate for you in negotiations with the prosecution that could result in charges being dropped or dismissed. We might also be able to arrange a plea agreement that could reduce the charges and penalties you face. In many cases, we might even be able to get charges dropped in exchange for community service, anger management, substance abuse treatment, and participation in other rehabilitative programs.
The Process for Criminal Charges in Maryland
If you are facing criminal charges, it is important to understand the different stages of your case and what you might be in for:
Arrest and Booking
Usually, a criminal case will begin with an arrest. At the time you are arrested, you will usually be searched, booked, and brought to jail. Additional “inventory searches” might be made of the bags and property you have with you once you get to the station. Police will seize any evidence that they find in relation to your arrest and determine what charges are right for your case. In determining what to charge you with, they might consult with the State’s Attorney’s Office.
You could be arrested after an investigation takes place and a warrant is issued, or you could be arrested at the scene of a crime if you were caught committing a crime. Alternatively, charges might come under a citation. Lower-level crimes are often handled with citations instead of arrests, especially if the crime involves no jail time. This is common for traffic offenses, disorderly conduct, and other low-level offenses.
Questioning and Interrogation
If you are in police custody, you have the right to have an attorney present if you are being questioned. This is right one of your “Miranda rights,” which also include the right to remain silent. Anything you say during an interrogation can be used against you, and police often use questioning as a way to get additional information from defendants who might not understand their rights. Many arrests lead to coerced guilty pleas and other unjust admissions at this stage. When you are being questioned, you should politely decline to answer any questions until your lawyer is present.
After an arrest, you will be brought before a judge at some point. This is your first court appearance in your case, and it is the first time where your right to have an attorney represent you in court attaches. From this point forward, any interactions with police or prosecutors should go through your lawyer.
At this stage, you will enter your initial plea. Usually, to fight the case against you, you want to enter a “not guilty” plea. A guilty plea will end your case here and now and send your case to sentencing.
Other options for pleas include an “Alford plea,” which functions like a guilty plea without admitting fault. This is good in cases where you will likely face civil lawsuits for the same conduct but do not want an admission of fault on record. You could also be entitled to plead not guilty by reason of insanity in limited circumstances. A “nolo plea” or “nolo contendere” plea functions like a guilty plea, in that it says, “I do not want to contest” the charges.
Once you are in custody, you will have bail determined. If the court agrees to release you, you might be asked to pay some amount for bail. If you do not show up to later court dates, you will forfeit this payment. If bail is set too high and you cannot afford it, a bail bond agent might be able to give you “bond” so that you can pay only a percentage of bail and pay back the agent later. Alternatively, a lawyer might be able to fight to get bail reduced without you having to risk your house or other collateral to afford bail.
If bail is not set in your case, the court should have some argument that your release would be a threat to the community or that you are a flight risk. We can challenge these arguments and work to get bail set so you can face your charges from outside jail.
Preliminary hearings are only scheduled in felony cases, for the most part. At a preliminary hearing, the prosecution will have to prove that there is “probable cause” to charge you with a crime. This means that the police and prosecutor have specific evidence they can point to that shows that there was probably a crime committed and that you were probably responsible. Without this evidence, the charges should be dropped.
These hearings take place in the District Court. If your case is held over for trial, it will be sent to the Circuit Court.
At the trial stage, your case will go before a judge or jury to decide whether or not you committed the crime. For misdemeanor cases, the trial happens before a judge at the District Court. Negative outcomes can usually be appealed for a new trial (“de novo appeal”) at the Circuit Court level. Felonies can be heard as a jury trial at the Circuit Court level.
At your trial, the prosecution will have to prove their claims “beyond a reasonable doubt” to convict you. Our lawyers can challenge each element of the offense and work to prevent them from proving their case. We can cross-examine prosecution witnesses and present our own witnesses and evidence. You also have the right to testify in your own defense if you want to, but it can often hurt your case and open you to additional questions and challenges.
If the judge or jury “acquits” you by finding you not guilty, your case will end and you can go home. If you are found guilty, your case will move on to sentencing.
If your case makes it to the sentencing stage, you will be entitled to have a lawyer represent you. At sentencing, the judge will look at the facts of the case and decide what your final sentence should be. Maryland’s sentencing guidelines and the statutes you were found to have violated will also dictate mandatory minimum and maximum sentences as well as suggested sentences.
Our lawyers will fight to get sentences reduced when possible. In some cases, certain legal requirements may prevent a judge from issuing a harsh sentence or an increased sentence if certain facts were not decided beyond a reasonable doubt at trial. Otherwise, the judge will be able to use a broad range of evidence, including past criminal history and other allegations, to decide your final sentence.
In many cases, we will fight for house arrest, probation, and other sentences that avoid jail time.
As mentioned, misdemeanor cases can be appealed for a new trial at the Circuit Court. Both felonies and misdemeanors can also be appealed to the appellate division to review legal problems with your case. For instance, unfair jury selection, unconstitutional use of evidence, and unfair rulings at trial could all taint your case and require the court to send it back for retrial. If this happens, we can try again and fight the case anew.
If you were already convicted before turning to our services, we might still be able to file a direct appeal or work to file collateral appeals and post-conviction petitions to get you a new trial.
Types of Crimes Our Maryland Criminal Lawyers Handle
What types of charges can a Maryland criminal defense lawyer represent? Our Maryland criminal defense attorneys defend against all types of criminal and traffic charges. This includes all forms of misdemeanors and felonies. Some of the most common criminal charges a defense lawyer will defend include DUI, drug charges, sexual assault, and more.
Maryland has both DWI (driving while impaired) and DUI (driving under the influence) charges. In either case, it is illegal to drive with alcohol in your system if it will impair your ability to drive. DWI charges cover drivers with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .07% or higher, while DUI charges cover drivers with a BAC of .08% or higher.
Simple drug possession involves possession of drugs for your own personal use. Charges for drug dealing, drug trafficking, drug manufacturing, and possession with the intent to deliver are often far more severe.
The crime of assault occurs when someone causes another person injury. These charges can be misdemeanors or felonies with various penalties based on how the crime was committed, whether a weapon was used, who the victim was (e.g., assault on a police officer), and how serious the injuries were.
Theft charges can be separated into various levels of crime based on the value of what was stolen or what type of object it was. Theft can involve directly stealing from a person, stealing unattended property, or stealing from a person’s presence.
If theft involves force or violence, it is usually charged as robbery instead. This is a more serious offense, as it is often considered a violent crime instead of a property crime.
Burglary does not have to involve theft. Instead, burglary includes the crime of breaking and entering and other issues involving trespassing with the intent to commit a crime.
Rape and Sexual Offenses
Sex crimes like rape and sexual assault are very serious offenses. These kinds of crimes could require you to register as a sex offender, pay high fines, and serve time in jail.
If you are accused of killing someone else, your case is very serious. Call an attorney immediately for help with homicide charges, manslaughter charges, or other murder charges.
Defenses in Criminal Cases in Maryland
In your case, there might be many ways to challenge the testimony and evidence against you. Some defenses challenge the fact that a crime was committed at all by arguing that the facts do not amount to the legal definition of a crime. Other defenses challenge whether they arrested the right person or whether you had an alibi. Some of the following are other specific kinds of defenses and case strategies our attorneys might use to fight the charges against you:
If you were accused of committing certain crimes like assault, you might be able to claim that the assault happened in self-defense. This is known as an “affirmative defense” because you agree that you committed the acts as alleged, but you use legal arguments to show that the attack was justified because you acted in self-defense or defense of another. For this defense to work, acting in self-defense must have been reasonable given the circumstances, and the force you used must have been proportional to the force the other person used.
Challenging Eyewitness Identifications
Many people think that eyewitness identifications are very secure and provide excellent evidence that they arrested the right person. In reality, there are dozens of factors that can make an identification unfair and might even make the identification illegal to use against you. If the alleged criminal had a weapon, was a different race than the witness, was far away, had a mask on, or was not in a place that the witness could have seen, the reliability of their identification should be challenged. Additionally, problems with police techniques used for in-person or photo line-ups might taint the accuracy of the identification or even push the witness into choosing the wrong defendant.
Challenging Evidence through Suppression
If evidence was seized through illegal search and seizure, the police cannot use it against you. If your home or property was searched without a warrant or if the police lacked probable cause, any evidence they found should be illegal. Fighting to get evidence “suppressed” and blocked from court is an excellent way to protect your rights and help avoid conviction. If evidence is suppressed, there might not be enough evidence left to prove the case against you.
Evidence Challenges at Trial
For evidence to come in during a court trial, it must be relevant, and its usefulness must outweigh any prejudicial effects it might have against the defendant. For instance, evidence that you committed the same crime three years ago is going to make the jury think you are a bad person, but evidence of past crimes doesn’t actually help prove that you committed this crime. The Rules of Evidence create many restrictions that block evidence from being used, including hearsay rules, rules against self-incrimination, rules protecting privileged information, and other rules.
Challenging Scientific Evidence and Test Results
For DUI charges to go through, the prosecutor often needs evidence from a blood test that shows you had alcohol or drugs in your system. Similarly, there must be scientific testing to prove that drug charges actually involved real drugs. If the test was tainted or the lab responsible for testing has questionable practices or processes, the evidence could be thrown out as unscientific.
Similarly, scientific evidence comes up in many cases in areas of fingerprints, DNA, ballistics, gunshot residue, and blood spatter analysis. Many of these tests are trusted because of their popularity on TV crime shows, but in reality, the science behind these kinds of evidence is not always as good as it seems. We can challenge pseudoscientific evidence or evidence that fails to meet the legal standards in Maryland.
Call Our Maryland Criminal Defense Lawyer for a Free Case Consultation
If you have questions about the criminal process in Maryland, contact Rice, Murtha & Psoras today at (410) 694-7291 to discuss your case. Our Maryland criminal defense lawyers have experience handling a wide range of criminal cases in the State of Maryland and may be able to help with your case, too. Call us today to schedule your free case consultation.