The Weekly Writ: Maryland Legal News You Can Use for June 7, 2021

Today on June 7, 2021, the Weekly Writ returns from the Memorial Day holiday break. Here's the legal matters you need to read about:

Of course, if these or any other legal questions are impacting you and your family, then don't hesitate to reach out to JC Law for your free initial consultation with one of our expert domestic, criminal, or civil litigation attorneys.

Baltimore Indicts Notoriously Violent Gang

Original Story

What's Going On:

A racketeering indictment handed down by federal prosecutors last week accuses members of the Baltimore gang known as Triple-C, CCC, of at least 18 murders and 28 attempted murders between 2015 and 2020.

The gang allegedly dealt in contract murders as well as dealing crack cocaine. Most defendants are already incarcerated, but three suspects were apprehended last week.

Why This Matters To You:

Violence in Baltimore continues to be a real issue dealt with daily. Shootings and homicides happen every day in the city, and law enforcement is working diligently to stop the bloodshed.

Federal authorities turned to RICO statutes to take down the mob, and it appears that tactic is coming into play again to take down more gangs. There is a lot of evidence and investigative efforts already at work when defendants are charged under these statutes.

Disproving an association with a criminal enterprise means the evidence against a defendant must be attacked and discredited. Anybody can have an acquaintance who may deal in some shady business, but that does not mean they were a part of a criminal organization because of a friendship. In other words, these become cases of guilt by association.

Remember, the prosecution bears the burden of proof. It is up to prosecutors to show a defendant was involved in criminal activity on a large scale with other people. Just because someone is friends with an alleged criminal does not mean they are criminals too.

More About Federal-Level Charges

 

New Maryland Law Limits Genetic Genealogy

Original Story

What's Going On:

Maryland recently passed a law limiting the use of genetic genealogy. In this DNA matching technique, investigators upload a "profile" from a crime scene to genealogy websites to find relatives of the defendant.

The technique was famously used to apprehend the Golden State Killer in 2018.

Starting October 1st, law enforcement will need a judge to sign off on using the method, and it will only be allowed for severe cases such as murder or sexual assault. The new law also says that only sites with strict policies about user consent can be used.

Why This Matters To You:

Privacy is a huge concern for all of us. The digital age has exposed our private information to hackers and others we didn't choose to access.

Maryland's new law about genetic genealogy is about protecting our rights. We submit DNA samples to a genealogy website under the pretense that it will be used to provide us with detailed information about our family history, genetics, and health, not a murder case. We're not submitting it for law enforcement to use against our family members or us.

Allowing police to obtain samples without the direct permission of the people whose samples are being tested or a court order violates our Fourth Amendment against illegal search or seizure.

Sites like Ancestry and 23andMe have strict policies in place that keep samples out of law enforcement's hands without a court order, but other up-and-coming sites are more than happy to help authorities without a court order. These sites ask you to opt-in or out of participation in their user agreements, something we know most of us do not read thoroughly. And the opt-in option is the default.

Participation in genetic genealogy should be a question asked more prominently and not automatically opted-in, something the new law considers as it only allows sites with those strict user policies.

JC Law commends the passage of this law as a legal champion fighting for Marylanders' rights every day.

More About Illegal Search & Seizure in Maryland

 

Court Clerk Alleges Sexual Assault In Civil Suit Against Garret County Circuit Court Judge

Original Story

What's Going On:

A former court clerk in Garret County filed a federal lawsuit against a sitting circuit court judge. The suit alleges the judge forced the employee to have sex with him or he would fire her.

The two had a previous relationship, but the plaintiff wanted to end it and alleges she was raped when trying to do so.

Why This Matters To You:

Positions of power should not lead to abuse of those powers. Our laws are in place for a reason. No one is above the law.

Although no criminal charges have been filed, a federal civil lawsuit carries damning consequences. If the ruling goes in favor of the plaintiff, not only could it cost the judge his job, but there is also a possible financial penalty for pain and suffering.

Also, a lawsuit only requires a "preponderance of the evidence" where a criminal case needs "beyond a reason of doubt." This requirement means that the evidence in this case only needs to show a chance the claim is valid. A criminal case requires proof positive evidence that the defendant committed the alleged act.

Choosing to file a lawsuit rather than criminal charges is usually a strategic move when too much time has passed between the alleged "crime" and the claim. It is difficult to gather evidence for a criminal case when so much time has passed because the evidence is either degraded or lost.

More About Civil Litigation in Maryland

 

US Supreme Court Limits Prosecutor's Use of Computer Fraud and Abuse Act

Original Story

What's Going On:

The US Supreme Court voted to limit the prosecutor's use of an anti-hacking law to charge people with computer crimes. The ruling follows the court hearing the case of a police sergeant fired for using a work database to run a license plate search in exchange for money.

The justices found prosecutors overreached in using the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to charge the sergeant. Their ruling said that the interpretation used to charge the police sergeant would attach criminal penalties to many everyday computer activities and make millions of law-abiding Americans criminals.

Why This Matters To You:

As we depend more and more on technology in our daily lives, the use of computers, tablets, and smartphones has become integral to work. Many employers establish rules and guidelines for how employees use workplace computers and even set up firewalls as security measures to prevent specific websites or material from being accessed.

So, is it a crime if you had permission to access the material on a workplace computer? Our US Supreme Court Justices ruled it is not. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act imposes criminal liability when someone "intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access." There cannot be a computer crime if you are pre-authorized to access the information, regardless of if the intent for accessing the data is improper.

The person was already granted access, so there was no "fraud" involved in obtaining the information already available to them.

More On Computer Crime Charges

 

Howard County Police Make Arrest In Cold Case

Original Story

What's Going On:

Authorities in Columbia, Maryland, arrested a man in a decades-old cold case. Howard County Police linked a suspect through DNA to the 1982 abduction and homicide of a woman walking to a grocery store at Owen Brown Village Center.

Police DNA tested items discarded at the crime scene earlier this year and matched a suspect profile through a state database. The victim in the case was raped and stabbed to death.

Why This Matters To You:

Law enforcement collects anything around a crime scene to analyze it for evidence. Sometimes, crime scenes are located in areas where many people could have potentially left evidence.

How can police be sure that the evidence collected legitimately belongs to the perpetrator? Couldn't there potentially be tens or hundreds of potential pieces of evidence linked to other people? Cigarette butts cast out a car window, trash littered on the street, spit out chewing gum, or strands of discarded hair.

DNA collected directly from the victim, like saliva, semen, or other bodily fluids, holds more weight as evidence since it connects the alleged suspect to the victim personally. Evidence collected from around a body dump could be related but could also have nothing to do with the crime.

More About Sex Crimes In Maryland