https://www.silvermanthompson.com/lawyer-attorney-1300820.htmlhttps://www.silvermanthompson.com/lawyer-attorney-1300820.htmlAs A Maryland Criminal Attorney I am often retained after a defendant has gone to court and received what they perceive to be an unjust result. Some of these clients were represented by other attorneys when the bad result was obtained and some were foolish enough to have attempted to represent themselves in criminal court which is always a bad idea. In criminal court, the State is represented by a trained prosecutor who has spent years studying and practicing the law and is intimately familiar with the Maryland Rules as wells as the Criminal Procedure Article. Why someone would go to court facing the possibility of large fines, probation or even the loss of one’s freedom without retaining an attorney who is as at least as knowledgable and experienced as the State’s Attorney, is incomprehensible to me. Yet, I see it almost every day, usually with very bad results for the defendant. I represented a defendant today who had recently made this mistake and as a result spent 10 days in jail in a case that never would have resulted in jail time had she been represented by an Aggressive Maryland Criminal Attorney. Here are the facts:
My client is a 19 year old young women with no prior record. She was the driver in a car when the police stopped her looking for her boyfriend for whom they had an arrest warrant. The police claimed that they saw a small amount of cocaine in plain view upon approaching the vehicle and based on that, searched the rest of the car. The police recovered 12 Oxycontin pills from my client’s purse. They placed her under arrest and charged her with possession of a controlled dangerous substance. A few months later she appeared in the District Court without an attorney. She requested a postponement which was denied. (Note: many clients express to me their belief that a person is always granted a postponement on their first trial date. While I believe that the law does require the court to grant a postponement on the first trial date in most circumstances, some judges view it differently and routinely deny these requests.) My client had no choice but to represent herself at trial. She was found guilty and sentenced to 6 months in jail – FOR HER FIRST OFFENSE!
Fortunately, many of these unjust results can be remedied by an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney, particularly if the bad result occurred in the District Court and not the Circuit Court. Most people are unaware that although a digital recording is created of every District Court proceeding, the District Court is not actually a court of record. What I mean by that is that if a defendant is dissatisfied with the outcome of a criminal case in the District Court, that person may file what is known as an appeal “de novo” in the Circuit Court. This means that when a case is appealed from the District Court, the Circuit Court conducts a brand new trial instead of simply reviewing the record for error. In the appeal de novo new evidence may be introduced and new witnessed may be called. This is not the case with an appeal on the record.
Appeals conducted on the record rarely result in the overturning of the original court result because these results are granted great deference by the higher courts and are usually only overturned if an error is made that is found to be “clearly erroneous”. Conversely, appeals conducted de novo very often result in a different result than the lower court reached because their decisions are not legally granted any deference at all. (In reality many Circuit Court judges will give some deference to the lower court, particularly if the result does not seem out of the ordinary, but they are not legally required to do so as in the case of an appeal on the record).
My client’s family ultimately filed an appeal to the Circuit Court on her behalf and bailed her out of jail but not until she had spent 10 days in. She then hired me and I appeared with her today in the Circuit Court. Although there was no defense to the case, either legal or factual, I had her enrolled in drug treatment and working a legitimate job prior to court and was able to present her case and her current circumstances in the most favorable light possible. The court was persuaded that she was on a positive track and agreed to grant her probation before judgment. Now instead of spending 6 months in jail and then having a permanent criminal record, she only has to complete a short period of probation and she will be entitled to have the entire matter expunged from her record.
I have represented many people in her situation throughout my career who for whatever reason chose to represent themselves in criminal court. My 19 year old client learned a hard lesson in this case spending 10 unnecessary days in jail Because she ultimately did the smart thing and hired an experienced criminal attorney to represent her at the appeal everything worked out the way it should have; and she is now a firm believer in the old adage – a person who represents himself in court has a fool for a client. No truer words were ever spoken.