Does it really matter who our elected judges are?

Why the Judicial Campaign in Howard County, MD Is So Important

Clarke Ahlers rightly challenges his two opponents for a judgeship…

[Correction to earlier version of blog post: Clarke Ahlers has argued in the U.S. Supreme Court, not in front of the U.S. Supreme Court; everything else stands as-is, including my opinion that you cast your vote for Clarke Ahlers.]

Let’s be clear: I’m going to make a pitch for you to vote for Clarke Ahlers, who has entered the Howard County Judicial race, but in order for me to convince you, we’ll start with the basics about judges.

Circuit Court Judges Sit on the Bench for 15 Years

Circuit court judges in Maryland are elected every 15 years and must retire at age 70. Circuit court judges go through a process of being nominated to a “committee” appointed by the governor. After an interview process, names are sent to the governor for selection and appointment.

But here is where it gets interesting.

Even though the governor appoints the judge and that judge is sworn in, he or she must stand for election.

And in my humble opinion, there is a classic checks-and-balances issue on the line right now.

Elect a Judge Who Understands Your Concerns

With long 15-year terms, there’s a danger in electing a judge who allows himself or herself to become closed-off from the average citizen’s concerns.

Elections involving judgeships have been looked at by voters as a “special” kind of race for too many years, and unless voters happen to know a lot about our judicial system, or get entangled in it at some point in their lives, most voters simply don’t care. (Hence the old saying: “You don’t need a good lawyer, until you need one!”)

If voters knew better, they’d elect someone like Clarke Ahlers.

Judges have a responsibility to interpret the law and protect citizens while on the same hand understanding and being informed about issues and things that really matter to the public. Take the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Protesters were jailed left and right and suffered grave mistreatment at the hands of both the police and the public. Ultimately, these protesters were taken in front of judges and the judges gave them harsh punishments.

Here’s my point: judges must understand who they are dealing with in the courtroom, within the context of the broader social situation-and a 15-year appointment is longer than any other state appointment in Maryland (even U.S. senators are elected only every six years). In other words, long terms can mean a disconnection from the broader community.

After all, when was the last time you walked into a courthouse and felt like you had a good experience?

Too often, people feel like outsiders. Most people tell me that they felt absolutely no control over their situation-that the lawyers and the judges “rule the show,” as they say.

But a judge with a clear understanding of the average citizen’s broader issues-like Clarke Ahlers-will be better able to serve you when you walk into the courtroom.

Why You Should Vote for Clarke Ahlers

Ahlers’s many years spent defending individual peoples’ constitutional rights and running his own law office as a business gives him that community connection, and I think it is time that the Howard County courthouse is given back to the citizens.

And Clarke Ahlers is the right person for the job.

Ahlers was a police officer for 14 years, then a criminal defense lawyer for 25. Talk about experience. Ahlers has been in more Maryland courtrooms, handled more cases of notoriety and interest, seen more trials and tried more cases than all of this opponents put together.

He has even argued in front of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Just search his name on Google and confirm this for yourself.

So, when Ahlers’s opponents talk about real experience, it’s clear to me that he has them outranked.

Vote for Clarke Ahlers for Howard County Judge.

Police perform illegal search on Army reservist

In the early morning hours of February 2, 2010, an Army reservist called what he thought was an emotional support helpline for veterans after feeling depressed and deprived of sleep. In truth, he spoke with the National Suicide Hotline, and after a short conversation that included questions about whether or not firearms were in his home, he ended the call. He then took some prescribed sleeping medication and went to bed.

At approximately 4 a.m., the reservist awoke to the sound of police using a bullhorn calling his name and asking him to come outside. He obliged and opened the door, where he was greeted by nearly 20 officers on his lawn. He then walked outside the home and locked the door behind him. He was promptly handcuffed and put in the back of a SWAT vehicle. One officer asked for the keys to him home and when he refused, the officer disregarded his clear refusal to allow officers in his home by ordering officers to force their way into the home, resulting in what appears to be an .

Once in police custody, the reservist was taken to a hospital for medical evaluation, and was finally released after several days. Then, upon his release, the police arrested him again and kept him in custody for more than two weeks.

When he was eventually allowed to return home, he found that his house had been horribly damaged and left unlocked and unsecured.

The constitution guarantees certain rights to all American citizens, like the residents of Baltimore and greater Maryland, where we practice criminal defense law. We know that the authorities cannot conduct searches of homes without probable cause, and that the police should be held accountable when they do.

Source: That’s Not The Help He Wanted

87-year-old ‘cultivates’ a bit more than allowed in marijuana case

An 87-year-old man with the legal authority to use medical marijuana to treat a medical condition (the condition goes unnamed in the story) looks to have gone a bit over the line – according to the strictures of medical marijuana law in Colorado – by growing more than 400 plants in his backyard.

According to the Huffington Post, the man is out on $10,000 bond, but he has been charged with “multiple marijuana-related felonies.” These felonies include possession with intent to distribute, cultivation, and possession of more than 12 ounces.

Medical marijuana is legal in a growing number of states, but is not in Maryland. In Colorado, the state in which the 87-year-old man lives, you can possess marijuana for medical purposes, but cannot grow in excess of proscribed limits.

Otherwise, as is clear in this case, the cops may figure you for a dealer.

The online comments are varied. One commenter says: “Well, he’s clearly a danger to society,” while another says: “He is 87 years old, he does not deserve to be in jail!”

Whether you agree with the comments or not, any felony drug-related crime poses severe consequences for the person who has been charged. A conviction on drug distribution charges in Maryland, for instance, can lead to years behind bars.

Source: If you are facing criminal charges, contact a Baltimore, MD criminal lawyer before you talk to police or anyone else.

When stop-and-frisk escalates into ‘sexual intimidation’

Wendy Ruderman, writing for the New York Times, says that the law of stop-and-frisk is “blind to gender,” meaning that a male police officer can perform a search on a female suspect just as they could on a male suspect. Gender plays no role in an officer’s ability to perform a search.

But the problem with some searches is that they can escalate into something quite sexual in nature.

Officers are trained to focus on the areas of the body where weapons can be hidden, and often those areas include underwear. “Yes, it’s intrusive,” said one law enforcement officer, as Ruderman quotes, “but wherever a weapon can be concealed is where the officer is going to search.”

The problem lies in the cases where the officer isn’t legally justified in doing the stop-and-frisk. In those cases, and there are many, the officer does not have legal authority to frisk the woman.

This, right there, leaves ripe the possibility of “sexual intimidation,” as Ruderman writes, wherein an officer pats down a woman’s private areas and rifles through the tampons in her purse for no justifiable reason.

Contact a criminal defense attorney today.

Source: For Women in Street Stops, Deeper Humiliation

Welcome to Our Baltimore Criminal Defense Law Blog

At James E. Crawford, Jr. & Associates, we bring more than 18 years of experience to people throughout the Baltimore area who are under investigation for crimes or have been charged with criminal offenses. We offer extensive trial experience, skill and knowledge. Attorney Crawford has handled thousands of criminal cases in the local courthouses.

We pride ourselves on our deep commitment to the well-being and needs of our clients. We will take the time to really get to know you and to find out what you need to move forward with your life. We will work hard to identify all your options and to help you understand the consequences of the different choices you make, so that you can make good decisions that protect your future.

We provide a free initial consultation to each client. To schedule an appointment, contact our office online or call us at 443-709-9999 (toll free at 866-635-0623).

Our Criminal Defense Law Blog

We set up this blog to provide useful information to people throughout the Baltimore area who face criminal investigations or criminal charges. We will update our blog on a regular basis, posting articles on a broad range of criminal defense issues, such as:

We welcome your participation in our blog. Please feel free to add your comments or posts regarding any topic discussed here.

Contact Our Office

To arrange a private meeting, contact us by e-mail or call us at 443-709-9999 (toll free at 866-635-0623). Your first meeting is free of charge.

DNA Cheek Swab At Booking Like Fingerprinting, Says U.S. Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that doing a cheek swab for DNA is just like fingerprinting and photographing during the booking procedure after a person has been arrested.

Thus, police now have the go-ahead to swab your cheek for DNA and match that DNA to records in the criminal database. It’s like an updated form of fingerprinting. As Richard Wolf reports for USA Today, this case was a “classic test between modern crime-fighting technology and centuries-old privacy rights.”

And modern crime-fighting technology won out.

Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, as you’d expect, dissented with the Supreme Court’s ruling, arguing that this result crosses the line into an unreasonable police search.

Wolf quotes Scalia’s dissent: “Make no mistake about it: because of today’s decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason.”

Source: Supreme Court OKs DNA swab of people under arrest

Science Experiment Casts Doubt On Reliability Of Eyewitness Testimony

Did you know what else you call eyewitness testimony? Simply this: “He said, she said,” which means you can go to jail because someone thinks you did it based on that person’s memory of events.

Melissa Healy’s article with the Los Angeles Times debunks the validity of eyewitness testimony – which is ultimately based on memory. Memory “can’t always be trusted,” as Healy writes in her headline.

Memory can even be manipulated through science. Healy’s subject is a science experiment conducted by researchers at MIT. Researchers put a false memory in mice:

“The mice with the light-sensitive brain cells made the connection, ‘remembering’ an association that never was: that the specific spot they had explored before was the place where they got a painful shock.

Given the opportunity to roam through a maze, these mice assiduously avoided the spot where they ‘remembered’ being shocked. But the mice who lacked the light-sensitive chemical tag made no such false memory, and happily returned to the designated place.”

Given the MIT researchers’ success in implanting false memories in mice, should we be so keen on trusting eyewitness testimony? Should we give it so much weight? These are questions criminal defense lawyers have been raising for a long time.

Source: Memories can’t always be trusted, neuroscience experiment shows

SWAT Teams: A Case Study In Overzealous Domestic Policing

Radley Balko’s recent essay in the Wall Street Journal, in which he writes about the rise of the warrior cop, takes the same title of his recently published book. It describes the militarization of America’s police forces. It shows us how SWAT teams – which used to be a rare thing – follow in the footsteps of Special Forces units, wielding M-16 assault rifles and flash bang grenades in raids on private citizens’ homes.

It’s alarming how accustomed we’ve become to the militarization, as Balko puts it, of police officers who are sworn to serve and protect. That’s “serve and protect,” as the saying goes, not raid the homes of private citizens and businesses.

Balko describes a number of cases where SWAT teams were used when they probably should not have been, including:

 

  • The man whose home was raided in the middle of the night because his ex-girlfriend tipped off police that he had some small marijuana plants growing in his basement
  • The factory floor of the Gibson guitar maker raided by a SWAT team with the Fish & Wildlife Service (who knew Fish & Wildlife had its own SWAT team?), on account of a suspicion that Gibson was using illegally-harvested wood
  • The Tibetan monks who remained in the country on expired visas who were likely surprised when a SWAT team in full battle dress descended upon them

 

And the examples go on.

And it’s quite troubling. As Balko writes: “Americans have long been wary of using the military for domestic policing. Concerns about potential abuse date back to the creation of the Constitution, when the founders worried about standing armies and the intimidation of the people at large by an overzealous executive, who might choose to follow the unhappy precedents set by Europe’s emperors and monarchs.”

States move to protect juveniles from the adult justice system

Often, when we think of juvenile law, we imagine vandalism or underage drinking. While this does account for a large portion of a juvenile court’s caseload, other, more serious crimes are fairly common as well. These crimes come with heavy punishments, often because their cases are pushed up to adult court, where sentences are longer and harsher.

In the past few years, many states have begun to reexamine their criminal justice laws as they relate to juveniles, a response to accusations that the system doesn’t do enough to rehabilitate juveniles. Indeed, the trend of sending juvenile offenders to the state’s adult prisons has received heavy criticism recently, as observers point out that the practice is helpful for neither juveniles nor society at large.

As a response to this criticism, many states have begun to pass laws that limit a court’s ability to try juveniles as adults. Approximately one-third of states, including Maryland, have passed such laws.

Two states, Illinois and Massachusetts, recently passed laws the place 17-year-olds under the jurisdiction of juvenile courts, rather than adult courts. Most states, including Maryland, carry laws of this sort. Only 10 states still count 17-year-olds as adults without exception.

Other states passed laws that placed limitations on courts’ abilities to send juveniles to adult courts; two passed laws that gave juvenile offenders tried as adults the ability to be sent back down to juvenile court. Though Maryland was not among these states, our legislature recently created a “Task Force on Juvenile Court Jurisdiction,” a committee that will study the current juvenile criminal justice system and offer suggestions for its improvement.

In addition, eight states passed laws that prevent juveniles from spending time in adult jails altogether. They may still be subjected to some other aspects of the adult criminal justice system, however.

Every year, many juveniles are tried in adult courts, courts that hand down punishments that were intended for adults. Often, these juveniles have a very difficult time in adult prisons, and come out of the facilities with an even greater inclination to commit crimes than they had going in. In addition, the prison sentence acts as a black mark on their record, one that will make it more difficult to get their young life back on track. Hopefully, then, laws such as these will rectify this problem and refocus the system’s efforts onto rehabilitating minors, rather than simply incarcerating them.

Source:  The Chronicle of Social Change, “Sixteen States Have Shielded More Juveniles from Adult System Since 2011” John Kelly, Oct. 10, 2013

Maryland law seeks expungement for burglary, other felonies

Maryland politicians are pushing for the approval of a law that would allow people to erase certain elements of their criminal records. Several measures have been proposed, with some seeking to allow most felonies, including burglary, to be expunged entirely. Other proposals would allow the expungement of misdemeanors. Current law allows only nuisance misdemeanors to be cleared from a criminal record. One example of a nuisance misdemeanor is public urination.

The proposed changes echo modifications that have been made in other jurisdictions. Change may be on the way for Maryland and other states, especially after statements from the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder that were released in mid-February. Holder is pushing to lessen some of the consequences associated with conviction for felony charges. He is encouraging changes that would prohibit employers to ask about felon status on certain job applications, for example, and Holder also said he wants convicted felons to be able to vote.

Felony records can cause long-term consequences, preventing those convicted from being eligible to receive licenses to be an electrician, barber or cosmetologist. Educational professionals might also be restricted from gaining full-time employment. Further, about two in three colleges inquire into applicants’ criminal records.

Although many legal professionals in Maryland are pushing for reform, some say the current approach is not comprehensive and could lead to ineffective piecemeal changes. Additional considerations for convicted felons could include pardons and initiatives for shielding. Instead of expunging the offense, the convictions would be kept on record, but most employers would not be able to find out about the offenses.

The fact that politicians in Maryland are working toward criminal law reform points to a changing perspective about convicts’ rights. Those who have been convicted of felony charges should not have their civil liberties removed, and they deserve to be able to seek work. A Maryland attorney may be able to help convicts learn more about their legal rights and options throughout their incarceration and after release.

Source:  The Washington Times, “Bills would allow expungements for more offenses” Nick Tabor, Feb. 12, 2014