Saturday, June 12, 2010


Two words delivered by a jury at the end of a criminal trial should eliminate the threat of prison time for an alleged crime: not guilty. The Office of the State's Attorney in Charles County, however, sees things differently.

If the defendant was on probation at the time of his arrest, the State's Attorney's Office plans to revisit the issue of guilt in a probation hearing before a judge. Yes, you heard it right. A jury acquits the person. Then, the State holds a second trial before a judge with a lesser standard of proof - "preponderance of the evidence" instead of "beyond a reasonable doubt." The judge is asked to ignore the unanimous verdict of 12 people selected at random from the community and freshly listen to the State's arguments. The person's liberty is again at stake. The judge is also asked to ignore the time and tax payer dollars invested in the original trial.

What if the person had a private attorney for the first trial and no longer has the money for a second trial? Too bad. Public defenders in Maryland don't cross county lines, so, if the trial happened in another county than the county in which the unlucky defendant is on probation, he or she can't even retain the same public defender. Hopefully, the new attorney will ask for a continuance, because he or she won't have much lead time before the violation of probation hearing to obtain discovery from the State, investigate and prepare.

When the police place a person who is on probation under arrest, probation officers typically file petitions alleging that the person has violated his or her probation. The court sets a hearing date. If the person is acquitted at trial or the State drops the charges, it is standard that the State dismisses the petition.

I'm frustrated by the State's overzeaous prosecutorial machinations. The State told me it will prosecute one of my clients at his upcoming violation of probation hearing who was acquitted at trial in a different county. I got in the case on Friday, June 11th. The violation of probation hearing is July 23rd. I have no police report or information about the case beyond that my client was acquited of charges at trial. Without even a police report, I lack a starting point to investigate his case at this point. It's wrong for the State to repeatedly prosecute someone based on the same set of facts. I'm filing a motion to try to bar this injustice.

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