I have blogged my times about the need to hire and Experienced and Aggressive Criminal Attorney if charged with a criminal offense in Maryland. I usually begin these blogs by positing the question, “Did you hire the right lawyer”. The reason for this is that so many people do not inquire into the experience and qualifications of an attorney before hiring him or her. Sometimes the lack of qualifications is a basic as the lawyer is simply not a criminal attorney but instead is a divorce lawyer or a personal injury lawyer. Sometimes it is lack of experience in a particular type of case or in the jurisdiction in which the defendant is charged.
Hiring the wrong lawyer is obviously a mistake regardless of the type of case at issue, but in a criminal case, the mistake can cause lifelong negative consequences. Unfortunately I witness this happening in court virtually everyday. I recently resolved an assault case that is a good example of this. Here are the facts:
My client attends college here in Maryland. He was involved in a relationship with a girl who was also a student at the institution. He believed that they were in an exclusive dating relationship. She apparently did not. One evening after being unable to get in touch with the young woman, my client went unannounced to her residence. Some other students let him into the secured building and he walked into her unlocked room. There he found her embracing another boy and not surprisingly, a fight ensued.
The fight resulted in superficial injuries to both young men including visible facial bruising and cuts to the alleged victim. My client was charged with second degree assault in the District Court for Baltimore County. The alleged victim also applied for and received a temporary protective order, also called a peace order, against my client. Both the alleged victim and the young woman gave statements to the police indicating that my client was the aggressor. These statements are corroborated by and consistent with the objective facts as it was my client who arrived unannounced and as the aggrieved party, had the motive to attack the other boy. It has been my experience that it is the jilted lover who typically injects violence into the situation, not the paramour.
In addition to the allegation of striking him repeatedly in the face and body, the alleged victim claimed that throughout and immediately after the attack, my client used vile racial slurs against the victim. My client of course denied using racial slurs and this allegation was not corroborated by the young woman who was in fact the only other witness.
Before coming to me, my client engaged the services of another attorney. This attorney did in fact have substantial criminal experience but not in the jurisdiction in which this case occurred,. He/She had also never before represented a client in a protective order hearing and had only appeared in this particular court a handful of times. He was unfamiliar with the judge who handled the case and, according to the client, offered the client unrealistic optimism as to the likely outcome of the case. This lack of experience proved costly even in a relatively minor case such as this.
This attorney decided to contest the protective order instead of consenting to it or better still, requesting a postponement to try to work something out with the victim that would avoid the issuance of an order altogether. This was a mistake for 3 reasons. First, given the facts, that is that it was my client who was the person being “cheated on”, that it was he who barged into the scene unannounced and that the only witness corroborated the victim’s story, this order was going to be granted by any judge on the bench. The standard is lower than a criminal case and the evidence was quite strong.
Second, by contesting the hearing, the judge made a factual finding that the client did in fact abuse the victim, posed a future threat to him and that he had used racial slurs in the process. And here is the kicker, protective orders may not be expunged from a person’s record. Under circumstances, they may be “shielded” but this is a very weak alternative to expunging a case. Had he not been able to avoid it altogether consenting would have been a better option as at least there would have been no factual finding and the record would only have indicated his willingness to stay away from the victim. Finally the third reason it was a mistake to contest the protective order was that it further irritated the victim as the client had, in the victim’s eyes been untruthful about what happened and refused to accept responsibility for his actions. This would turn out to be important several months later when the case went to criminal court.
The client believed that he was not being effectively represented at this point and terminated the representation of this attorney. He retained my firm to represent him in the criminal portion of the case. Ultimately the criminal case worked out in a way that will not cause my client to have a criminal record. He received probation before judgement and a period of unsupervised probation but I believe based on my discussions with the prosecutor and the victim’s father who is an attorney, that had the protective order not been contested, that they would probably have agreed to dismiss the criminal charges altogether.
So instead of no factual finding on the protective and a dismissal of the criminal charges allowing immediate expungement, he has a permanent civil “record” of the incident in the District Court that could cause him problems in the future and a probation before judgement that cannot be expunged as a matter of right until 3 years from the trial date. Certainly not as devastating a result to the case as some others I have written about in the past but hardly ideal and totally avoidable had the client been a little more diligent in investigating the background of the first attorney. The information is readily available on websites such as Maryland Judiciary Case Search and it should be utilized when making a decision as important as hiring a criminal defense attorney.