As a Baltimore Maryland Criminal Attorney I am often confronted with cases in which the Baltimore City Police (and occasionally police from other jurisdictions) take a simple misdemeanor case and charge it as a major felony. I have blogged about overcharging by the Baltimore City Police in the past and unfortunately it seems to be happening more and more frequently. Although these cases are typically reduced by State’s Attorney’s Office at the preliminary hearing, the fact that the police originally charged the case as a felony can result in major negative implications for the person charged.
First of all, the fact that the case was overcharged will almost invariably result in a much higher bail than would have otherwise been set had the case been properly charged as a misdemeanor. The increased bail amount will at best cost the defendant additional money to secure bail and at worst, cause the person to have to remain in jail until the case is set in for the preliminary hearing or even until the trial which could be months in the future. Also, the expungement statute precludes a person from having any count in a charging document expunged if the person is eventually convicted of any count. With criminal records so readily available these days on the Internet, having felony charges on one’s record, even if they are eventually dismissed, can cause serious problems for people in a variety of areas including employment, especially in today’s job market. I recently represented a person who was charged with attempted first degree murder for what was nothing more than a misdemeanor second degree assault. As in most cases, the overcharging of the case caused severe repercussions for the client. Here are the facts of the case:
My client is a 35 year old Baltimore native with no prior criminal record. He is a college graduate and runs his own business employing approximately 25 people. He went out to dinner with his girlfriend and another couple one night last month. After dinner they went to a bar to have drinks. As they were walking through the crowd at this bar, my client’s girlfriend was touched in a sexual manner by another patron. My client confronted the other patron who took an aggressive posture with my client and attempted to strike him. My client then shoved him to the ground and left the bar.
My client was not aware that this individual struck his head on a bench causing a cut approximately 3 inches long on the side of his head. Because this person was extremely intoxicated (medical records showed his blood alcohol content to be over .30) he bled profusely from his wound. The Baltimore City Police responded and called an ambulance who took the man to Shock Trauma, probably because it was the closest hospital. Although the individual was released from the hospital just a few hours later with 8 or 10 stitches, the police officer charged my client with both first degree assault and attempted first degree murder.
Luckily for my client, he didn’t do what most people in his situation do when he heard that there was a warrant out for his arrest which is to simply turn himself in. Instead he contacted my office and retained us which almost certainly saved him from an extended stay at the Central Booking Intake Facility. The reason for this is that with a charge this serious a Court Commissioner will order the defendant to be held without bail and many judges will refuse to lower it at the bail review. Recognizing this peril for my client, I contacted the State’s Attorney’s Office ahead of time and got them to review the charges. The prosecutor who reviewed the case agreed that the case was overcharged and that it was really nothing more than second degree assault. He agreed to make sure that the judge at the bail review knew that the State would not be pursuing the felony charges and agreed to affirmatively recommend a reasonable bail.
Once at the bail review it immediately became clear that it was a very good thing indeed that we contacted the State ahead of time because the judge stated on the record that “this case has no bail written all over it”. Of course I think that is an outrageous position to take given my client’s spotless record but it is the reaction that I feared and was guarding against by contacting the prosecutor prior to having the client turn himself in. The judge reluctantly went along with the recommendation of the State and released my client on bail which again spared him from spending a month in jail awaiting the preliminary hearing.
Once we were able to determine the identity of the alleged victim from my client’s charging documents, my client’s girlfriend filed sexual assault charges against the alleged victim. At the preliminary hearing all charges were dropped against both my client and his alleged victim when all parties invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to testify. The case worked out exactly as most similar cases do but the case was made far more difficult to handle by the fact that the officer so obviously overcharged the case.