Homicide of the Maryland State, USA
This case study presents a typical first-degree murder conducted by a group of accomplices on the sovereign territory of the Maryland state, USA. The crime is typical for suburban areas of the USA. A significant number of similar homicides perpetrated annually in various jurisdictions of common and civil law systems. Recent report published by International Amnesty Organization reveals that 4% of the entire crimes committed worldwide directly or indirectly relate to matters or other types of aggravated assault (Roberts, 2004). The investigative process of homicides can be attributed to the ones of particular complexity and, therefore, requiring extra professionalism and experience from the investigators assigned to resolve the riddles. The United States criminal law has been streamlined in this regard, and only professionals with the five years of excellent professional record are assigned to violent crimes division (Roberts, 2004). Furthermore, this case is of particular practical significance due to the fact that minors are involved (Walkate, 2003), from both parts the defendants and the victim. Therefore, particular scrutiny should be demonstrated by the investigative team as well as by their implicated FBI colleagues. It should be highlighted that full compliance was procedural, and substantive criminal law matters of federal and state scope should be demonstrated by the investigators in the course of procedural actions fulfillment.
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The report is integrally divided into three independent parts. The first part illustrates the activity conducted by the investigative team and the crime scene observation. In particular, this chapter of the report lists the actions that were taken by the investigators and speculates over the compliance of their activity with existing provisions of substantive and procedural United States criminal law. Secondly, this part of the paper examines the existing expert and scholarly opinion upon the subject and concludes whether the activity of the investigation squad fully conformed to the discussed scholarly postulates of forensic investigation and examination.
The second part of the report is primarily focused on the delineation of investigation approaches itself. The analysis of this part is dedicated to witness testimony procedures, evidence collection, accusation acts formulation and their legal basis. Evidences are independently analyzed, and the admissibility and legality criterions are meticulously weighted. This part of the paper is of great practical importance, since if the preventive evidence collected during the investigation approaches is found insufficient by the jury, or is declared inadmissible by the judge, the defendants attorney are likely to utilize this opportunity.
The last part of the paper examines the possible defenses that can be employed by the attorneys of the defendants. Practice demonstrates that, nowadays, the most popular defense tool in homicide cases is the pleas of temporary insanity or accident or misfortune strategy (Skogan & Maxfield, 1981). Although in this very case the probative evidence seems to be supportive to the team of district attorney, deft maneuvering of the defense team can provide some viable results for the accused. Therefore, effective and legally sound contra arguments should be developed and made consistent with the governing case law Institute of the provisions, of both state and federal scope.
Analyzing the legal framework of this problem, it is necessary to accentuate that the hierarchy of governing law for this particular case study is vertical and horizontal simultaneously. Vertical classification of applicable law includes federal legal instruments, namely the criminal code of the United States, the Constitution of the United States etc., while the second line of the applicable legal instruments includes the Penal Code of Maryland, the guidelines and instructions of the police authorities, the guidelines delivered to the police authorities from the office of prosecutor, guidelines on forensic examination of evidence , criminal procedure code of Maryland, legal ethic codes, guidelines on treatment of minor delinquents and witnesses.
Vertical diversification of the ruling legal prescriptions includes case law and statutory law, which in specific cases can be contradictory (Walkate, 2003). This paper references landmark cases of federal and state significance pertinent to witness testimonies procedures, juvenile delinquents accusation procedures and evidence collection cases. Specifically, it should be accentuated that case law materials supporting the accusatory line of the case study have been assembled here. Naturally, the cases cited in this paper would be vehemently challenged by the defense team, but provided that they are duly backed up by the opinion of the scholars and by the statute or law provisions, they are likely to have preponderance over the arguments raised by the defense team.
Crime Scene Investigation Procedures and their Compliances with the Law and Standards of Practice
As it is prescribed by the existing statutory guidelines on homicides investigation, multiple independent research and investigation activities have been conducted by the detectives. First and foremost, lopus delicti was carefully examined, and all the possible evidences have been collected. In accordance with the discussed police report, the body of the victim was located, and primary medical examination was conducted, revealing that several wounds in head and abdominal areas were inflicted. Totally, it was assumed that 31, 12 of them of mortal character, strikes with a knife have been perpetuated, as subsequently affirmed by the medical examination.
As it has already been emphasized, investigation homicide is positioned as one of the most difficult criminal procedural activities, especially when a particular case involves minors as victims or as alleged delinquents. In this case, both components are present, therefore, the investigators should have acted diligently, and particular sensitivity should have been demonstrated in treating of the involved people.
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This part of the paper examines the procedural activities conducted by the investigation squad on the basis of the three primary criterions. Firstly, the admissibility of the actions was evaluated. Secondly, their relevance was focused. Lastly, procedural actions taken by the team are compared with existing practice, and hereby the conclusions upon their efficiencies are made. This chapter comprises of three independent parts. The first one reviews the witness testimony and the positions procedures, the second one accentuates surveillance and apprehension operations, while the last one aggregates and analyzes the rest of relevant actions conducted by the team
The way the witnesses and the delinquents have been interviewed is positioned as one of the most viable defenses in this case, since procedural violations took place, albeit the fact that they did not affect the ultimate repercussions of the study.
Firstly, interviews with Heather Thomas should be carefully analyzed. In accordance with the stated law of Maryland, the number of interviews with minor witnesses is not limited. However, the practice and the scholarly opinion in this regard clearly recommend limiting the number of interviews to one interview. Two interviews are allowed in exceptional circumstances. In this particular case, the investigators conducted three examinations of the witness. The last examination involves the use of special equipment to verify the veracity of the obtained testimonies. In this regard, two primary conclusions can be made. First, the number of interviews exceeds the one admonished by the standards. Secondly, the United States Bar Association highlights the necessity to amend the existing statute, namely to make it obligatory for the investigators to obtain the courts that want to use special equipment for interviews with minors. In this case, such solicitation was not conducted, and the family of Heather Thomas required an attorney to advice upon this matter. Moreover, there is no mention that indicates that the witnesses were informed about the rights granted to them under the law.
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The interviews conducted with their alleged criminals should be accentuated as well. First and foremost, under the statutory the state of Maryland, as well as under the federal legislation, the presence of an authorized attorney in the cases involving minor delinquents, especially when they are treated as alleged suspects, is mostly required. In this case, there is no mentioning that the suspects were questioned in the presence of the lawyer. Furthermore, the investigation corroborated the fact that academic performance of the delinquents was far from perfect, and no permanent employment was identified as well. These factors suggest that they may hypothetically have serious mental problems, and in accordance with the recommendations of the United States Bar Association, the presence of psychiatrist and psychologists is necessitated in such cases (Hanfland et al, 1997). There is no mentioning that the specialists were present during the interrogations, especially during the charge. However, assuming that these criterions were satisfied, the evidence is collected from the alleged criminals during the interrogations should be declared admissible and, therefore, legally binding for the court. Moreover, the court practice of Maryland demonstrates flexible approach to the synergy of the investigators, manifesting that even if minor deviations from the statutory case law have been identified; the collected evidence should be nevertheless presented before the court if it is probative and substantial in its nature. The case law of Maryland evidence is that not a single case has been reversed on the basis that the psychiatrist or psychologist was not present during the interrogation conducted by the police, although that leads to several disciplinary actions brought against the officers.
Interview with victim’s mother Mrs. Smith was conducted relatively professionally, although insignificance deflections from the criminal procedure practice have been identified. First and foremost, the officers acted ethically when they decided not to inform the mother that the discovered body could have hypothetically been her daughters. However, although this requirement is not mandatory, Atty. Gen. of the United States in his annual report to the law enforcement system of the United States of America admonished that possible connections between the victim and the relatives should be immediately informed to the closest relatives (Skogan & Maxfield, 1981). Albeit the fact that the law was not violated, this policy is not favored by the state attorneys of the country. Generally, the interrogation was conducted in this case was a benchmark of professionalism, since almost all relevant data was obtained during the first interview, and the second one was necessitated merely to affirm the findings.
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The most problematic interview is the one dealing with the interrogation of Ashley’s psychotherapist. Although it was conducted in full accordance with the guidelines on police work, and it was precisely informative and succinct, it should have been conducted before the rest of the interviews. Evidences of particular significance have been collected, and they should have altered the course of the entire investigation at its preliminary stages, so that unnecessary investigative procedures could have been successfully avoided, such as multiple interviews with classmates and friends of the victim. Moreover, intense contact with the victims psychotherapists and psychologists is increasingly recommended by the Association of United States Criminal Attorneys as a highly successful investigative technique (Walkate, 2003).
Overall, having analyzed the produced witness testimonies, it can be inferentially concluded that all of them are relevant, accessible and consistent with the existing practice of evidence collection. Therefore, they should be taken into consideration by the court of law, and the charges are likely to be affirmed.
Suspects Surveillance Procedures
Addressing that surveillance procedures conducted by the enforcement agents, it should be declared that they are admissible, legitimate, relevant and effective. Firstly, it is necessary to accentuate the fact that in Maryland, no need to obtain a court warrant for these procedures is necessary, therefore, the officers acted in full compliance with the law when they initiated them. However, technical surveillance from close distance could have hypothetically reveal this relevance process and, therefore, upset the operation entirely. The fact that traces of victim DNA and clothing parts were located in the car of the main suspect should be also considered by the court of law.
Other Procedural Actions
Forensic investigators examined the body of the victim. In homicide cases, this procedure is explicitly dictated by the statutory and case law (Roberts, 2004); therefore, admissibility criteria cannot be raised by the defense team. Secondly, this procedure was indeed relevant for the needs of the investigation due to the fact that relevant evidence has been extracted from the body and included sperm DNA samples of the alleged delinquents. The examination of the stab wounds inflicted to the victim was necessary to classify the case as homicide, since the character of the strokes precisely suggests that the assailants intended to murder, and no aggravated assault defense strategy is hereby viable.
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Lastly, the practice remains adamant in this concern. To be more exact, the Association of the United States criminal defense lawyers precisely recommends conducting a forensic examination of the body in all murder cases, especially in first-degree homicides. Considering the fact that this requirement is dictated by the statute, it should be inferred that this procedure is fully supported by the practice.
Particular attention shall also be linked to the fact the substantive evidences (fabric, arm set, wounds etc.) have been examined by a laboratory specialist. In this case, there was no mentioning of the method utilized by the investigators in the records. At the same time, the methods are exhaustedly listed in the statutory provisions and deflections from these guidelines should be interpreted as substantive violation and may be used in the appeal court as effective remedy by the defense team.
Possible Defenses of the Accused and Viable Counter Arguments
Although the guilt of the assailants seems to be fully proven in this case, accomplished and professional defense lawyers could employ various strategies to vindicate their clients. In this case, the temporary insanity and accidental murder seem to be the most viable techniques to set the defendants at large. This part of the paper examines the prospects of the defense team in this regard, and their arguments could be effectively overruled by the team of district attorney.
Firstly, the argument that the defendants were temporarily insane when the crime was perpetuated should be dismissed by the court on the grounds of absurdity and lack of relevant medical corroboration. To be more exact, the statutory laws of Maryland and the federal one have never experienced a non-guilty verdict when there was an assault by a group of people, who made several stabs to the victim. Secondly, the number of wounds explicitly suggests that the victim was targeted and the activity was premeditated and analyzed, before it was carried out. For such a case, the defense team is unlikely to find a cognitive therapist who would speculate that all the defendants were temporarily insane, when the murder was being conducted. Lastly, it is important to highlight in this context that alcohol intoxication should be classified as the aggravated circumstance, since alcohol is ubiquitously considered to be a substance which does not create any inhibitions to mental thinking capacity of a human being, even for the minors.
Besides, it is likely to assume that the defense lawyers will not follow this course because of negative repercussions ensued from the court decisions based on temporary insanity defense. Firstly, as established in Archuleta v. Hedrick, a person is likely to spend the rest of his life in a medical facility, which has little difference from penitentiary institution, except that an insane person is isolated from his inmates and forcibly treated (Walkate, 2003). Moreover, even if a defendant is ultimately acquitted, public reprimand and strong social isolation are guaranteed for such person. Therefore, it remains highly dubious that the defense team will employ this tactic.
Accidental murder will not stand in this case as well, since this legal concept purports that the assailant is intending to inflict heavy bodily damages to the victim, but not to kill. Stabs targeting victims neck, face and abdominal area are considered as life-threatening by any reasonably prudent person, and this is a criterion for a court of law. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that this defense is likely to collapse as well.
To sum up, it can be logically inferred that the only option for the defense team is to plea for the diminishment of life sentence to 25 years due to the fact that the accused are minors and were alcohol intoxicated during the crime.
Although the court practice varies in this regard, the majority of the states have adopted the doctrine that no exceptions should be granted even for minors in the cases of exceptional gravity and cruelty (Roberts, 2004). In this case, it is vitally important to establish whether the case is particularly great and cruel. Seemingly, with regard to the premeditated character of the murder, the character of the inflicted injuries and the number of assailants, it seems to fully satisfy the requirements of exceptionality. Therefore, the assailants are likely to face the full rigor of the law.
Having summarized the main findings of this essay, several inferential conclusions can be made. First and foremost, the procedures conducted by the investigative squad do seem to be fully consistent with the existing postulates of contemporary criminal substantive and procedural law of the United States, as well as with the recommendations of civil advocacy groups and criminal law associations.
Generally, the activity of the investigative team should be considered as positive. Especially, it is necessary to emphasize the fact that the team remained minimal during the investigation, and no irrelevant procedural and resource consuming investigative steps have been followed.
The probative evidence collected by the investigators is seemingly sufficient to confirm the charges formulated by the office of District Attorney. Considering the fact that several insignificant deflections from the law took place during the investigation, the imposition of disciplinary actions upon the assigned investigators is likely to be carried out, although the importance of the case and successful guilty verdict are likely to clean their record completely.