Articles Posted in Appeals

The Gun Trace Task Force was an elite unit within the Baltimore City Police Department tasked with getting illegal guns off the streets.  But as a blockbuster federal investigation revealed, GTTF members were themselves criminals of the worst kind: crooked cops who conspired to terrorize the very same citizens they swore to protect and defend.  Their misconduct was shocking even for a City accustomed to police scandals: suspicion-less stops and arrests, writing false police reports and fake search warrants, lying in court, planting evidence, beating detainees, robbing citizens, and on and on.  Some measure of justice was achieved after the officers involved were convicted of federal conspiracy charges, but the battle to ensure appropriate compensation for the victims is ongoing.  A recent decision by the Maryland Court of Appeals in two cases brought by GTTF victims represents an important victory in that battle.

In Baltimore City Police Department, et al. v. Ivan Potts, Misc. No. 6, September Term, 2019, and Mayor and City Council of Baltimore v. Estate of William James, No. 51, Sept. Term, 2019 (, the Court considered whether Baltimore City and the Police Department should be forced to pay judgments against GTTF officers obtained by two victims, Ivan Potts and William James.  The facts of their cases are egregious, but sadly typical of the crimes committed by the GTTF officers.

Ivan Potts

On August 28, 2019, in a landmark decision, the Court of Appeals abrogated the long standing rule that a defendant could not be convicted based solely on the testimony of the defendant’s accomplices. (State v. Jones, No. 52, September Term, 2018). Jones was charged with the murder of Mr. Sandeep Bhulari. The investigation led to six suspects. Fingerprints discovered at the crime scene implicated four of the suspects. Jones was implicated solely by the accounts of three of the suspects. The trial, those three suspects testified pursuant to plea agreements. In addition to their testimony, the State presented testimony from detectives and forensic experts and offered physical evidence. None of the physical evidence directly implicated Jones. Jones was convicted of conspiracy to commit armed carjacking. Jones appealed.

The Court of Special Appeals held that the accomplices’ testimony was not independently corroborated by other evidence and that the accomplice corroboration rule had been violated. However, the panel of the Court of Special Appeals suggested that the Court of Appeals reconsider the accomplice corroboration rule.

The State filed a petition for writ of certiorari which was granted by the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals noted that the rule applies in only a minority of states and determined that it was grounded in outdated legal reasoning. The Court then abrogated the accomplice liability rule as it was previously structured. This decision now leaves exclusively to the jury to assess the credibility of accomplice testimony. In place of the rule, the Court of Appeals has instructed trial judges to give a cautionary instruction when the State chooses to introduce accomplice testimony. As the current Maryland Pattern jury instruction dealing with accomplices covers the now abrogated rule, the jury instruction must be modified.

Experienced Maryland Criminal Attorneys do not generally make it a practice to advertise cases we lose but I had one the other day that I think merits discussion, the outcome not withstanding, both because it was an interesting case and because it offers an opportunity to discuss the ” de novo” appeal process in the District Courts of Maryland. In English, that means that if a person who is convicted in the District Court is dissatisfied with either the verdict or the sentence, he has the right to a brand new trial in the Circuit Court. That’s right, the appeal is not “on the record” such as it is in cases that are appealed from the Circuit Court to the Court of Special Appeals. Instead, the case starts all over again in the Circuit Court.

This may sound incredibly inefficient to someone who is not acquainted with the system as it sounds as if every case has to be tried twice. In practice, the exact opposite is true. Indeed, it is the very fact that we have de novo appeals that affords litigants the opportunity to take a shot in the District Court, even if the posture of the case or the judge is not ideal. If you win the case, it is obviously over but even if you lose you get another shot at it in Circuit Court. Not only that, a record now exists of exactly what the State’s witnesses will say. This is an invaluable tool in a State where criminal depositions are almost never done. In practice, most litigants accept the decision of the District Court as even the majority of those who are convicted are not sent to prison. The result of all of this is that most of the cases docketed in District Court are resolved there instead of ending up in Circuit Court. I had a case in the District Court for Baltimore County last week that, for reasons I am confident will become clear to the reader, I decided to take a shot with even though the situation was not ideal. Here are the facts.
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Today in the case of State v. Campbell, Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin and White’s criminal appeals lawyers convinced the Maryland Court of Special Appeals to reverse a Circuit Court for Baltimore County Judge thereby winning the freedom of a client serving a ten year sentence-without parole. The firm did not represent the client at the trial, but after the bad result, was retained to handle the appeal.

The Facts:

Baltimore County police see a drug transaction conducted from a Lincoln navigator. The police stop the buyer who says he bought drugs from the vehicle. The police lose sight of the vehicle. Four hours later, the police stop the car with guns drawn. The defense argued there was no probable cause to stop the vehicle four hours later because the police had no description of the sellers of narcotics four hours before. Judge Dana Levitz of the Circuit Court for Baltimore County said there was probable cause and sentenced the defendant to ten years without parole.

The Court of Special Appeals vacated the conviction and agreed that there was no probable cause to arrest the occupants of the vehicle when there was no reason to believe that the same persons who operated the vehicle earlier were occupying the vehicle at the time of the arrest.
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Today, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals vacated a murder conviction because defendant’s right to counsel violated.


The victim was stabbed in Hagerstown Maryland. Based on a review of images captured by security cameras, Adams was a suspect. Adams fled the scene but was picked up on a parole violation in Baltimore. He was brought back to Hagerstown for questioning. He was advised of his rights per Miranda, executed a waiver and made inculpatory statements. Adams was then charged with first degree murder and counsel entered his appearance. Months later, the prosecutor asked the detective to serve on Adams the notice seeking life without parole. The detective went to the detention center. Criminal defense counsel was not present. After seeing the notice, Adams said “why is the state going after me so hard?” The detective said “because you stabbed a guy 32 times.” Adams responded that he only stabbed the guy seven times and then went into detail about where he stabbed him. Defense counsel moved to suppress the statements. The trial court denied his motion.


The Court of Appeals, citing Edwards v. Arizona and other cases, noted that there were no Miranda warnings given at the second meeting and therefore there was no intentional knowing and intelligent waiver of his right to have counsel of record present. The Court held that, under the totality of the circumstances, any reasonable police officer would have reasonably anticipated Adams would respond to the detective’s accusation and that regardless if the detective acted in good faith, this encounter was the functional equivalent of interrogation.
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Most defendants charged with DUI, DWI and other drunk driving crimes in Maryland do not realise their right to appeal and have a brand new trial. All misdemeanor criminal and traffic charges in Maryland are first tried in the District Court. If a defendant is not satisfied with the judge’s decision, the defendant can appeal to the Circuit Court. Under the Maryland Rules, this is called an appeal de novo. An appeal de novo wipes the slate clean and is a brand new trial. Whether the appeal is a new trial heard by a jury or a plea bargain before a judge, it completely replaces the original decision in the District Court. Often times in difficult cases, it is sound strategy to take a shot in District court and if it is not favorable, appeal.

As experienced Maryland DUI lawyers, we have found that in difficult cases, our clients often fair much better on appeal than in the original trial. This is usually due to the fact that the higher court is used to dealing with the most serious crimes and a DUI is, relatively speaking, not as serious as murders, rapes, and other crimes the higher court is accustomed to dealing with. It may also have something to do with the fact that delay is always a friend of the defense for several reasons.
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