Articles Posted in Criminal justice news

On Wednesday, Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller gave a public statement that basically said, “Read my report.”  Decoding Robert Mueller, NY Times, Opinion, May 29, 2019.  He said he could not come to a conclusion, unless he could exonerate the President.  That is not entirely accurate because reading his thorough analysis provides the answers.  However, the report is so long and detailed that virtually all of the news articles and commentary refer to the report in very general terms, rarely discussing the essential underlying facts, instead focusing on conclusions: whether he obstructed justice or whether impeachment should occur.  But conclusions without facts are not very helpful.  This has enabled the President to falsely claim the report exonerated him, and the Attorney General, in his March letter, to falsely claim the elements of obstruction were not met, the exact opposite of what the report says.  It is as if they have decided, “we can say whatever we want because most people won’t read the report.”  However, it is possible to summarize the essence of the report – the facts – as follows.

Obstruction of justice is a crime containing three requirements, according to Mueller, an obstructive act, a connection to a pending or foreseeable proceeding, and a corrupt intent.  An obstructive act “would naturally obstruct the investigation and any grand jury proceedings that might flow from the  inquiry.”  It is no defense to say the obstruction was prevented by aides, as the crime of obstruction is defined as the attempt, irrespective of outcome.  Mueller found ten potentially obstructive acts or series of acts and analyzed each to see if they were obstructive acts, whether there was a connection to a pending or foreseeable proceeding and whether there was an intent to obstruct that proceeding.

With respect to four of these, Mueller found “substantial evidence” that satisfied the elements: (1) efforts to fire the special counsel; (2) efforts to change the special counsel’s charge to focus on interference with future elections; (3) ordering White House counsel McGahn to deny Trump tried to fire the special counsel; and (4) efforts to keep Michael Cohen from cooperating with federal authorities.  The only thing Mueller didn’t say was the conclusion that he had enough evidence to indict the President for obstruction of justice, instead saying he couldn’t clear the President.  But his conclusion IS in the report.  And the facts can be simplified, as above, or amplified, if necessary, for public consumption.

 

The State’s Attorney for Baltimore City, has announced on January 29, 2019, that marijuana possession cases will no longer be prosecuted in Baltimore.  In an article in the New York Times, Marilyn Mosby stated that it makes no sense to prosecute marijuana cases because it diverts resources from investigating more serious crimes and it alienates members of the community whose support police need to investigate these crimes.  Additionally, the State’s Attorneys’ office will be reviewing 5,000 marijuana possession convictions and proposing legislation to make it easier to vacate convictions for marijuana possession.

As the Daily Record reported yesterday (Jan. 23, 2019), a bill will be introduced in the Maryland legislature to expand Noah’s Law (named after Noah Leotta – a police officer killed by a drunk driver) to require an ignition interlock be installed as a condition of a probation before judgment.  Currently, first offenders who blow a .15 or higher, or refuse to submit to a breath or blood test are required to obtain an ignition interlock for one year or have their licenses suspended for 180 or 270 days respectively (for a first test failure or refusal).  If the driver submits to a test with a result of .08 or more but less than .15, the 180 day interlock is optional.  That person may elect instead to drive with a permit that allows driving for work, school, medical, or alcohol education restricted driving privileges.  Currently, some first offenders escape the interlock where they win the MVA hearing for a test failure or refusal, or if they have an out of state driver’s license.

There are some significant problems with the proposal, such as dealing with individuals who share cars with family members, who don’t own a car, who have to drive clients to earn a living or who live out of state.  Currently, out of state drivers are not allowed to participate in Maryland’s ignition interlock program.  This can be a devastating problem for drivers who live out of state and work in Maryland.  Additionally, the law would deprive judges of the discretion to deny interlock in an appropriate case.  This was the decision the legislature made a few years ago when Noah’s Law was enacted.  Also commercial drivers are not allowed to drive commercial vehicles while their licenses are restricted in this way.

As the Daily Record reported:

On Thursday, the nation was transfixed as the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh.  Kavanaugh has been accused of sexual assault by Ford and a number of other females when they were in high school and college.  All of the complaints say that Kavanaugh was extremely inebriated at the time.  However, when Kavanaugh was asked about his drinking habits he became very defensive and refused to answer the questions, although he did admit to on occasion drinking too much and liking beer.  At all costs, he had to deny his alcoholism, if he suffered from it, because that would lead to questions of whether he drank to the extent of experiencing blackouts, a symptom of heavy drinking, where the person has no memory of their conduct while drunk.  If he experienced blackouts, then his denials would be much less credible.  Although the senators’ questions for the most part avoided touching on his alcoholism, it appears evident that his alcoholism or lack is central to the case.

In drunk driving cases, all clients represented by attorney Leonard Stamm are referred to a program approved by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to determine if the client has a drinking problem and to receive an appropriate level of education and treatment.  A directory of programs nationwide can be found here.

Clients are assessed to determine if they have a drinking problem using a number of psychological screening tests.  The most well known is probably the Michigan Alcohol Screening Test also known as the MAST test.  Clients are give a score based on their answers.  A higher score indicates a likely drinking problem.  Other tests include the Alcohol Use Disorders Test or AUDIT test.

On Wednesday, September 12, 2018, Leonard Stamm appeared in the Court of Appeals to argue the case of Owusu v. MVA.  Owusu was arrested for drunk driving and taken to the police station.  At the police station he was read the DR-15 Advice of Rights Form.  This is a form police officers are required to read to DUI suspects advising them of the penalties for refusing or failing a breath test for alcohol.  In Owusu’s case he was read the form and told that if he failed the test he would lose his driver’s license for 180 days, but that if he refused he would lose his license for 270 days.  Additionally he was told that since he had a commercial driver’s license or CDL, that if he refused the test his CDL would be disqualified for one year.  The one year disqualification meant that he not be able to perform his job as a bus driver for one year.

Immediately after reading the form, that contained a lot of other information as well, to Owusu, the officer tried to be helpful.  He told Owusu that since he was a bus driver he would be out of work for 180 days if he failed the test and 270 days if he refused.  Although probably well meaning, the officer’s statement was false. Critically, the officer did not tell Owusu he would be out of work for one year if he refused as a result of the one year disqualification of his CDL.  The one year disqualification was huge because it means Owusu will have to retake the CDL knowledge and skill tests with it, but not with a 270 day suspension.  Owusu testified at the hearing that after the officer advised him, he was not aware he would lose his CDL, and that, if he had he would have submitted to the test.

As Stamm had argued in the MVA hearing and again in the Montgomery County Circuit Court without success that the giving of the false advice failed to comply with the relevant law requiring the arresting officer to “fully advise” the driver of the administrative penalties and also violated Owusu’s due process rights.  Stamm also unsuccessfully argued in the hearing and appellate court that the DR-15’s form’s advice of a 270 day suspension on a refusal, and eligibility for a restricted license, without telling drivers that the required period of interlock restriction is longer, one year, violated his statutory and due process rights.

Many people will remember the nurse in Utah who refused to draw blood in a DUI case under directions from a police officer and was arrested.  She subsequently settled a lawsuit for $500,000 and the officer was fired.  As a result the Utah legislature tried to fix the problem.

In Anne Arundel County doctors and nurses have also refused to follow illegal directions from police officers.  In response, bills were introduced in the Maryland Senate and Maryland House of Delegates to try to fix the problem. The bill would require qualified medical persons to withdraw blood where the driver did not consent to a test after an officer developed reasonable grounds (defined as reasonable articulable suspicion) to believe a person was driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs and there was an accident resulting in a fatality or life threatening injury.

The problem is that the Supreme Court has held in two cases, Missouri v. McNeely, 133 S. Ct. 1552, 185 L. Ed. 2d 696 (2013) and Birchfield v. North Dakota, 136 S. Ct. 2160 (2016), that before police may direct a qualified medical person to withdraw blood the officer must have probable cause and a warrant, unless an exception to the warrant requirement such as exigent circumstances or consent exists.  However, not every case involving a fatal or life threatening injury will involve exigent circumstances.

This week, my friend, Brian Karem, editor of the Montgomery Sentinel and writer for Playboy, after months of abuse of the media by Trump, finally fought back. Calling out the President’s lies are not “fake news.”  The press is not the “enemy of the people.”

President Trump, by calling the news media “the enemy of the people” and calling facts “fake news” is attacking all of us. Thursday and Friday he attacked Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski.  Today he released a wrestling video, showing him punching and wrestling a person with a CNN logo on his head.  He calls CNN FNN – fake national news.

There is a reason that freedom of the press is enshrined in the First Amendment. The Founders set up an elaborate system of checks and balances that is being tested as never before, at least during our lifetimes.  With a Congress unwilling to restrain the executive, willing to steal Supreme Court seats, an executive that repeatedly lies, insults, and bullies his opponents, an independent counsel that could be fired as soon as Trump thinks he can get a way with it, and a president that is unwilling or unable to defend the country against a Russian cyber attack, the media is our last line of defense.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled that the injunctions against enforcement of Trump’s travel ban, that had been upheld by the Fourth and Ninth Circuits would be upheld in part and reversed in part.  Trump claimed this was a victory, but a careful reading of the majority opinion reveals otherwise.  The plaintiffs in the cases argued for a stay because the travel ban would cause irreparable injury to them and by implication, persons who were similarly situated.  The parties who claimed irreparable injury were parties who had family members, friends, and students coming to the US.  Foreign nationals who had no connection with anyone in this country did not bring the lawsuit, and have no constitutional right to come to this country.  In a sense the Supreme Court basically said that anyone that claimed irreparable injury and those similarly situated (“who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States”) could not be barred from entering the country.  To the extent that the lower court’s injunctions covered parties not involved in the lawsuit, in essence, they were overbroad.  Essentially all of the plaintiffs prevailed in the Supreme Court as to their interests.  Trump prevailed against foreign nationals who were not active in the litigation.  In other words, Trump lost to no one initially, and then prevailed over them.  Everyone who sued Trump won at the injunction stage.

There can be no doubt after Trump’s bizarre press conference with the Romanian President yesterday, that the lunatics are running the asylum.  The only question is, when will enough honest and honorable Republicans admit this, take steps to end our national nightmare, and free the nation and the world from Trump’s paranoid and delusional roller coaster ride?

The day after James Comey testified under oath that Trump demanded his loyalty, asked him to stop investigating Michael Flynn, and lied about the reason for Comey’s firing, Trump came out and called Comey a liar and said he would repeat his claims under oath.   Hmmm who should we believe, the career boy scout or the pathological and delusional liar?

Under Trump’s view, fed by Stephen Bannon and Corey Lewandowski, among others, Comey was part of the so-called “deep state,” you know, the secret group of intelligence officers that really run the country.  Yes Trump’s mind is under the control of the alt-right lunatic fringe.  Trump is mysteriously not bothered in the least by Russia’s cyber attacks on our country.  For someone who repeatedly claims there was no collusion with the Russians,  everything he and his administration does makes them all look guilty.  The smoke is so thick we can’t breathe.  We will find the fire.

The Court of Appeals recently held that even though implied consent to blow is only given by persons who drive or attempt to drive, it is sufficient to suspend a driver’s license or privilege to drive if the officer  merely has “reasonable grounds to believe” the person was driving.

The Court of Appeals ruling was based on a provision in the law governing the issues that can be raised at a hearing.  It only requires the MVA to show the officer had “reasonable grounds to believe” the person was driving.  As it has done in other cases, the Court of Appeals has created two different standards, one for the criminal case, and another for the license suspension hearing.

In the criminal case, the Court has recognized the “stationary shelter” defense.  A person may use the car to “sleep it off,” even with the motor on and not be driving, and therefore not be guilty in the criminal case.  At the MVA hearing, which is separate from the criminal case, the MVA could satisfy the lesser standard of  “reasonable grounds to believe” the person was driving, and the person can lose his or her license or privilege to drive in Maryland for 270 days for a first refusal or two years for a second or subsequent refusal or be required to participate in the ignition interlock program for one year.  (Important note – the interlock program only applies to Maryland licensees – out of state drivers are out of luck.).