First Offender Represents Herself in Witness Intimidation Case and Goes to Jail a Maryland Criminal Attorney I am often hired by people who have made the very big mistake of trying to represent themselves in a criminal case. I have blogged about this topic in the past but I had a case today that vividly illustrates the peril one places oneself in by appearing in criminal court without an experienced, aggressive criminal defense attorney.

My client is a 53 year old mother and grandmother with absolutely no criminal record. She is the mother of another one of my clients so I had met her several times in the past. She was charged with witness intimidation by her estranged daughter in law and the ex-girlfriend of her son. In fact, the alleged witness intimidation occurred during the trial in which I successfully defended her son against assault charges filed by the ex-girlfriend. Essentially, she was accused of making a phone call in which she threatened the victim telling her that she better not come to court. She was also accused of standing in her way as she tried to enter the court house on the day of trial and nudging her as she walked by.

She came to my office when she was charged several months back and advised me that she was going to hire me. I told her that it was essential that she have an experienced criminal defense attorney as witness intimidation cases are being prioritized by the prosecutors these days as a result of the “stop snitching” climate that permeates most urban communities as of late. The next thing I heard about the case was yesterday when I received a panicked phone call from her son advising me that his mother had decided to represent herself, had been found guilty and sent to prison.

The son and his father immediately retained me for the appeal and begged me to try to get her out. I looked into the case and found that she had received a sentence of five years to the Division of Corrections with all but 6 months suspended. In spite of the fact that an appeal from the District Court is “de novo”, meaning the defendant receives a brand new trial, the judge ordered that the sentence was not to be stayed upon the filing of an appeal and that she would be held without bail pending the appeal. (I explained the appeal process thoroughly in my 6/19/09 blog). The son and father advised me that to add insult to injury, his mother was supposed to be on a plane to Cancun, Mexico in two days for a week-long vacation that had already been fully paid for.

I explained to the family that we would need to file an immediate appeal as well as a petition for habeas corpus and motion to stay the sentence in the Circuit Court to try to get her released pending the appeal which won’t be heard for at least two months. I advised them that this process technically requires a hearing which could not be heard until next week, but that I would do my best to try to circumvent that process and get her out today. Given that Friday, July 3 is a holiday and the courts are closed, I only had one day to try to get her out in time to avoid spending the holiday weekend in jail and forfeiting her vacation.

I drafted the motions last evening and went first to the District Court to file the appeal and then to the Circuit Court to file the motions. I hand delivered a copy to the State’s Attorney and advised them that I intended to take the motion to the chambers’ judge and request an immediate ruling. The State’s Attorney advised me that they would oppose her immediate release (in spite of his personal reservations about such a harsh sentence for a first offender) because they are required to notify the victim under the Victim’s Rights Amendment so that she could attend the hearing and be heard if she chose to do so. Luckily for the client we drew a sympathetic chambers’ judge who had himself been a District Court Judge. This judge reminded me that he had never denied appeal bonds when he sat on District Court because of the obvious chilling effect this has has on the person’s appeal rights.

The judge signed the order and my client was released two hours later. As I have noted in my previous blogs and I cannot stress this point enough: criminal charges are serious, even for first offenders. If you are charged with a crime, no matter how innocent you believe yourself to be and no matter how minor you believe the charges are, you need to at the very least consult an experienced criminal defense attorney so you don’t end up like this poor woman.

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