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salmon-3139390__480-300x150A popular downtown Annapolis restaurant was burglarized last month, and the two suspects have yet to be identified or apprehended.  Unfortunately, dozens of businesses and homes are burglarized each day in Maryland, but this incident was particularly bizarre.  For starters, surveillance video showed the suspects entering the restaurant’s kitchen through an unlocked door while many members of the staff were still busing closing down after a night of business.  Rather than proceed to look for cash, liquor or other common valuable items, the burglars went straight to the walk-in refrigerator an emerged with approximately 40 salmon fillets.  At a cost of $10 per fillet, the total loss for the restaurant was around $400.  While not the heist of the year, this likely ranks as one of the largest fish thefts in Anne Arundel County in a while.

Annapolis Police first responded to the call after midnight following a busy post-quarantine Sunday night.  According to police, the manager was getting ready to head home when he noticed several salmon fillets sitting in the kitchen instead of their normal storage spot in the fridge.  He questioned his fellow employees, but none were able to provide an explanation about the mislaid fillets.  A trip to the office for a review of the security cameras quickly explained the situation, though it was likely not what the employees expected to see.  It is unclear whether the thieves performed a quick in and out job, or took their time to maximize their haul.  In the movies, a bank heist usually goes south when the robbers spend too much time in the vault.  These salmon thieves may have taken notice and limited their time in the walk-in refrigerator.

Had the pair have been caught in the act, or identified and arrested down the road they would have faced multiple criminal charges including second-degree burglary.  Second-degree burglary is defined as breaking and entering a storehouse (business) with the intent to commit a theft, arson or a crime of violence.  Contrary to common belief, breaking and entering does not mean the suspect actually has to break something to gain access to the interior of the building.  Opening an unlocked door and crossing through the doorway is enough of an intentional act to qualify as breaking and entering under Maryland law.  Second-degree burglary is a felony with a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison, though if a firearm was stolen it becomes a 20-year maximum.  Other states such as Florida have similar enhanced penalties when a burglary suspect steals a firearm during the course of the crime.  In Florida this becomes armed burglary, which is actually punishable by life in prison.  The suspects would also have been charged with theft less than $1,500, which is punishable by up to 6 months in jail.  If the suspects did not have lengthy criminal records the state would likely have offered a plea to theft, and kept the offense a misdemeanor.  The case is likely to remain as cold as the salmon left in the fridge, but if anything changes the Blog will be sure to post a follow up article.

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handcuffs-2102488__480-300x169Tens of thousands of people travel along Route 50 from Annapolis to Ocean City each summer, and few complete their journey without seeing a Maryland State Trooper parked in the median, or actively writing a traffic citation on the shoulder.  The state police have a highly visible presence on all major highways and interstates in Maryland, but it is a common misconception that troopers operate exclusively in a highway patrol capacity.  Highway patrol is a major function of the Maryland State Police; nearly 75 percent of all troopers are assigned to the Field Operations Bureau that patrols the state’s highways, but that still leaves a few hundred troopers who are assigned to other divisions of the agency.  The Criminal Investigative Bureau or CIB is another major branch of the MSP, and is responsible for investigating violent crimes and large-scale drug violations that occur across the state.  The CIB works in cooperation with county and local law enforcement from all corners of the state, and in this past week assisted in arresting suspects from Ocean City to Allegany County.

State police troopers from the CIB began last week by arresting a 36-year old mand from Frostburg on charges of second-degree assault and animal cruelty.  The Western Maryland man was released by a district court commissioner on a $2,500 unsecured personal bond, which he will only have to pay if he fails to appear in court.  The next day the Firearms Enforcement Unit of the CIB arrested a 27-year old Baltimore man on gun charges that included possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.  Another day passed and troopers from the CIB arrested a in Baltimore County man for possession of a firearm by a disqualified individual.  The state police used information from the Ocean City Police Department to make this arrest.  Troopers went on the arrest two more individuals on various charges this same day.  The first was arrested on an open arrest warrant in Baltimore City for making a false statement to an officer, and the second suspect was arrested in Cumberland on an arrest warrant for electronic harassment.

While none of these arrests will generate major news headlines on the traditional media outlets, they do serve as a reminder that state police troopers are actively investigating and pursuing suspects across Maryland.  Regular readers of the Blog are already aware that the governor has made state police resources available to fight violent crime and gun crime in Baltimore City, but gun crimes are a major priority for the MSP no matter where they occur.  Maryland has some of the toughest gun laws in the region, and law enforcement officers are not sympathetic to those who are unaware of just how strict the laws are.  State troopers, like all county and local police officers, will arrest any person who is illegally carrying or transporting a firearm without a concealed carry permit.  These permits are extremely difficult to obtain, and out-of-state permits are not valid in Maryland.  Anyone who owns a firearm should be extremely careful about taking their firearm outside of their home, and should regularly keep updated on all the applicable state gun laws.

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police-850054_960_720-300x212Ocean City has seen a dramatic increase in violent crime since welcoming tourists over the past few weeks, and government officials are extremely concerned.  The most serious incidents seem to be clustered around the Boardwalk in the southern part of the 8-mile stretch of beach, but arrests are up throughout the city.  Two weekends ago, the Ocean City Police Department reported 129 arrests compared to 95 during the same time last year.  This increase is even more alarming considering there are fewer visitors this summer due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  In response to the rise in violence, the police department has committed to increasing law enforcement presence by as much as 25 percent around town and on the Boardwalk.  The department will have to hire new officers to keep up with the demand, which will come at a considerable expense to Maryland’s only beachfront town.  The process of hiring new officers will also have to be accelerated due to the immediate demand, but the mayor’s office is confident the city council will be supportive.

Crime spikes hardly come as a surprise in Ocean City during the summer months, as upwards of a quarter million tourists flock from D.C., Maryland, and neighboring states such as Pennsylvania and West Virginia to vacation.  But the crime spikes are typically related to traffic and non-violent offenses.  Underage drinking and open container citations are especially common in Ocean City, and those who receive these citations are often surprised to learn they can have criminal consequences.  Carrying an open container is a crime under the Ocean City municipal code, which makes it punishable by up to 90 days in jail.  DUI is also common, as well as other alcohol induced offenses such as disorderly conduct and trespassing.  Alcohol and peer pressure also motivates the younger crown to indulge in shoplifting and other theft crimes, and arrests for possession with intent to distribute marijuana and narcotics majorly spike to meet the demand of those heading to OCMD to party.  These offenses come with the territory of a popular summer vacation spot with a booming nightlife, and they are crimes the police and Worcester County judicial system can easily keep under control.  The problem lately is that a large number of recent arrests have been for extremely violent offenses such as first-degree assault involving knives and firearms, and the last thing city and county officials want is for their cash cow tourist industry to suffer as a result of the town being labeled as unsafe.

Five suspects were recently arrested for a felony assault and weapons charges stemming from a fight that broke out on the Boardwalk, and all are being held without bail at the Worcester County Detention Center.  They are all scheduled for preliminary hearings at the district courthouse in Ocean City, but their cases will eventually be forwarded to the circuit court in Snow Hill.  Portions of the brawl were caught on video, and the incident received media attention around the state.  Apparently, late night crime has become so common on the Boardwalk that some business owners have become increasingly concerned about staying open late.  Fed up bar and restaurant owners have already started closing earlier than in years past in response to the violence.

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ambulance-5272148__480-300x200A 23-year old woman was arrested last week after she allegedly stole an ambulance from the West Annapolis Fire Station and then crashed it into a van.  The sole occupant of the van was flown to shock trauma with serious injuries, while the ambulance thief fled the scene of the accident on foot.  As a result of her fleeing the scene the young woman was not arrested until the next day, and is now out of custody after being released on her own recognizance.  She is facing charges for theft over $100,000, rogue and vagabond and motor vehicle theft.  Unlawful taking of a motor vehicle and theft over $100,000 are both district court felonies, and trial has been scheduled in October.  The woman has also been charged with reckless driving, negligent driving and driving without a license.  She may face additional charges for leaving the scene of an accident involving injury.  Reports did not offer an explanation of what prompted the woman to steal the ambulance as fire fighters were training when the vehicle was initially taken.  There is also no indication of what exactly caused the accident, though the woman did receive a citation for running a red light.  All told, this is a pretty bizarre scenario and whichever Anne Arundel County judge hears the case will likely not be too pleased with the defendant.

While the defendant does not appear to have a prior criminal record other than a drug possession case on STET, she may face an uphill battle in the fight to stay out of jail and keep her record free of a criminal conviction.  This is especially true if she ends up being charged with leaving the scene of an injury accident.  Despite being classified as a traffic offense and only carrying a 1-year maximum jail sentence, leaving the scene of an accident with bodily injury is an offense that prosecutors and judges take extremely seriously.  The defendant’s record of committing traffic offenses is lengthy, and she does not appear to have had a valid license recently.  There are numerous prior traffic cases in multiple different jurisdictions including Baltimore City, Prince George’s County and Anne Arundel County.  Ultimately her prior record of traffic convictions may come back to hurt her when her trial date comes around in the Fall.

The Blog will continue to follow this strange case, and may post a follow up article in the near future.  It is hard to think of a reasonable explanation why a person would steal an ambulance.  There may be valuable equipment in emergency vehicles, but we’re not talking about items you can simply sell at a pawn shop or trade at a local flea market.  Also, it is nearly impossible to elude law enforcement in a stolen ambulance, as they are easily recognizable and always GPS equipped.  There may in fact be more to this story but a logical explanation is unlikely.  As regular readers of our Blog are well aware, there are not always logical explanations to the behaviors of those leading up to an arrest.

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street-lamp-4843331_1280-300x200Two suspects have been charged after months of investigation into a series of copper wire thefts from light poles along the Baltimore Beltway.  Since April law enforcement has been investigating as many as four separate incidents where copper wire was forcibly removed from the state-owned poles lining the travel lanes of 695.  On the night the defendants were arrested, troopers responded to the Falls Road exit in the Lutherville-Timonium area of Baltimore County at around 4 in the morning.  It appears that the pair were caught in the act and eventually taken into custody without incident.  Following their arrest, the criminal investigations division of MSP along with help from the State Highway Administration connected the defendants to the three other thefts of similar nature.  According to state officials, the four thefts caused approximately $66k in damage to the existing poles.  As a result of the value of the damage and the cost of replacement, both defendants are facing multiple felony theft charges, as well as malicious destruction of property over $1,000.  The defendants are set to appear in the Essex District Court on September 3 for their trials, but there is a good chance this date could be pushed back, or that the cases will be moved to the Circuit Court for Baltimore County.

This recent arrest was hardly the first run in with the law for either defendant.  In fact, the pair are co-defendants in a pending theft with similar facts in Howard County.  One of the defendants actually has 4 open cases in multiple jurisdictions including Anne Arundel County, Harford County, Howard County and this Baltimore County case.  It also looks like the 45-year old Baltimore City man is facing a violation of probation for a Glen Burnie drug possession case.  The defendants look to have avoided the most serious theft charge of theft over $100k in this particular case, but still face up to 10 years in prison for each count of theft more than $25k.  They also could be looking at additional time for malicious destruction of property related to the damage caused to the light posts.  Both also face theft scheme charges for participating in multiple criminal acts, and will likely have thousands of dollars in restitution payments should they be found guilty.  One of the defendants is out of custody, while the other remains in the Baltimore County Detention Center in Towson on a no bail hold.  The judge likely considered this defendant was both a flight risk and a danger to the community based on his prior record and multiple pending charges.

The Blog will continue to follow this case and may post a follow up article in the future if anything newsworthy occurs in the case.  Both defendants face an uphill battle in this case based on their prior criminal record, and if convicted, the judge could be especially harsh considering the crimes were committed during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Benjamin Herbst is a Maryland criminal defense lawyer who specializes in theft charges in state and federal court.  He also handles in malicious destruction of property cases, and has successfully defended numerous clients in Baltimore County, Howard County, Harford County, Anne Arundel County and all other Maryland jurisdictions.  If you have a question about a criminal case feel free to call Benjamin anytime at 410-207-2598 for a no obligation consultation.  It is too much of a gamble to walk into criminal court without an experienced lawyer by your side, and there is no risk in speaking with Benjamin to see what defenses may be available in your case.

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joint-200x300The 2020 Maryland legislative session came and went without much fanfare, as any news coming out of Annapolis was largely overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Still, there were some interesting criminal law developments that came at the tail end of the shortened session.  For the last few years we have published multiple articles covering the state’s evolving marijuana policy.  Lawmakers and prosecutors have taken a firm stance on reducing the number of new marijuana cases in the criminal court system, and their efforts have produced significant results.  We have seen fewer marijuana possession cases each year, and most of the cases end up being resolved in a reasonable manner.  Lawmakers have also made a point to remove the negative stigma that follows anyone with a prior marijuana possession case.

Marijuana will eventually be legal for recreational use in Maryland and the rest of the country, and there is no reason why a person with a marijuana possession conviction should face discrimination from potential employers or the public in general.  Rather than wait until pot is actually legal to erase prior cases from the public record, lawmakers took the position to start this inevitable expungement process this year under House Bill 83.  The bill ordered the Maryland Judiciary to remove any information pertaining to District Court marijuana possession cases that were disposed prior to October 2014, as long as there were no other criminal counts attached to the case.  It seemed like a perfectly logical and just undertaking with little downside, and it passed easily in both the House and the Senate.  In fact, the Senate passed the bill 46-0 and while it seemed the process of erasing thousands of old pot possession cases would start in January of 2021, the governor had other ideas.

The governor vetoed House Bill 83 on May 7, and issued a letter to the leaders of the House and Senate explaining his decision.  The letter basically stated that as direct result of the legislature failing to pass his Violent Firearms Offenders Act a number of other criminal law bills were being vetoed.  This included the seemingly innocuous and remarkably uncontroversial marijuana expungement bill.  The governor did not specifically address his policy reasons for shutting down the bill or any other bills including one designed to preserve the confidentiality of juveniles charged as adults.  The veto was purely a political play; the governor didn’t get his way on one criminal law issue so he denied lawmakers on a few others.  Anyone with a six-year old or older marijuana possession case has to pay the price for a totally unrelated failed gun law.  Fortunately, these defendants will not have to wait long for their cases to be erased, as the General Assembly will almost certainly override the veto.  Defendants with newer marijuana possession convictions will eventually have their cases removed from public view by a similar bill to HB 83, though legalization of recreational use may happen sooner.  A defendant with a conviction for an offense that is no longer a crime under Maryland law is eligible for immediate expungement.

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graphics-882726_640-300x207Last Friday evening the Chief Judge of Maryland’s highest court issued an updated administrative order, which established a plan to reopen state courthouses this summer.  The previous order stated that the courts would be closed to the public through Friday June 5, but offered little guidance to how the courts would reopen that following Monday.  It was no surprise that a more comprehensive order would be forthcoming, and the only thing left in doubt was the timing.  Reopening in so called “phases” has become a sign of the times, and the courts are adopting this approach moving forward.  There will five phases according to the order, and they will gradually go into effect over the course of the next five months.

According to the order we will be in phase 1 until Friday June 5 at the close of business.  Phase 1 has been officially in effect since March 16, which seems like ages ago.  With respect to criminal cases, both the circuit and district courts of Maryland have been closed except for emergency hearings such as bail reviews, habeas corpus motions and emergency evaluation petitions.  Domestic violence protective orders and peace orders have been heard by district court commissioners, but there have been no final evidentiary hearings set in front of judges.  Phase 2 will begin at the close of business on June 5, and last through July 19. Courts will still be closed to the public during phase 2, but the circuit courts will begin to hear guilty pleas and deferred sentencing matters, so defendants will be permitted inside the courts.  It does not appear that the courts will hear any pleas that may result in a defendant being sentenced to immediate incarceration during phase 2.  The juvenile courts will still operate more or less on an emergency basis, and will not hear reverse waivers or dispositions that require testimony.  The district courts will begin to hear guilty pleas in phase 2 with no incarceration or deferred incarceration, and also preliminary hearings with agreed resolutions.  The overall theme of phase 2 is beginning to move cases that do not require witness testimony or that will result in immediate incarceration.

Monday July 20 appears to be a big day in the Maryland court system, as phase 3 will begin and the courthouses and the clerk’s offices will officially be open to the public.  They courts are still working on exact guidelines to limit capacity and promote social distancing, so it won’t simply be a free for all at 8:30 on the 20th.  The circuit courts will begin to hear cases with witness testimony including bench trials, pleas, violation of probation hearings, evidentiary motions and jury trial prayer status conferences.  The juvenile courts will begin to hear waiver hearings, dispositions and adjudications, and the district court will be permitted to conduct trials for incarcerated defendants and defendants facing DUI charges and charges involving violent acts such as assault in the second degree.  Phase 4 will begin on August 31, and mark the beginning of the minor traffic dockets in district court, as well as all other non-jury trials.  Things are scheduled to completely return to normal on October 5, when phase 5 begins and the circuit court resumes jury trials.

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vehicle-69771_1280-200x300Last week Baltimore County Police responded to a shopping center to investigate a call regarding unattended children in a car.  Upon arriving at the Randallstown strip mall police were able to locate a black Honda Accord with the hazard lights on, and an infant and a toddler in the back seat with no adult in sight.  After checking on the welfare of the children and determining that there were no immediate health concerns, officers then set out to locate the owner of the vehicle to determine who was supposed to be caring for the children.  An initial search of all the nearby shops produced negative results, so police were forced to break one of the car windows in order to reach the children.  Officers apparently tried to instruct the 3-year old to open the car door before they made the decision to break the window.  EMTs were called to the scene to check on the children while police continued to search for the owner of the car.  After again searching all nearby businesses, police noticed a nail salon with the shades drawn, which made it impossible to see if there was anyone inside.  They knocked on the front door and it turned out there were multiple adults inside, including the owner of the Honda where the children were found.  As is sometimes the case with a routine call to service, police found a lot more than they were looking for.

It turned out that the nail salon had been operating illegally in violation of the Maryland governor’s executive order.  All beauty salons in Maryland remained closed until last Friday evening throughout the state, but Baltimore County and other counties such as Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s County have delaying reopening. Though rather than cite the business for violating section 14-3A-08 of the Maryland Public Safety Code (a criminal misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail), police turned their attention to the owner of the Honda who put two children in danger.  Police ended up charging the woman with two counts of confining an unattended child under section 5-801 of the family law article.  This offense carries the possibility of up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine upon conviction.  This means the 22-year old Baltimore City woman faces up to 60 days in jail when she appears before a District Court Judge in Catonsville for her August trial date.  It does not look like the young woman has any adult prior criminal record in Maryland, so she may be afforded the benefit of probation before judgment and avoid jail time.  On the other hand, the judge will not necessarily be sympathetic to a person who left children unattended to get a manicure during a statewide stay at home order.  Had the woman been shopping for food or other essential items, maybe she could have some reasonable mitigation arguments.  It is understandable that parents would not want to potentially expose their children to the virus, but still, leaving them in the car unattended is not a safer option.

Maryland law prohibits an adult from leaving a child under the age of 8 unattended in a motor vehicle, home or other enclosure.  The law requires that the state prove the adult was charged with the care of the child or children, and that the motor vehicle, home or enclosure be out of site from the adult.  It is a defense if another child 13 years of age or older is with the younger child, but the older child must be considered reliable.  A defendant may be able to argue that child was never out of sight, but this factual affirmative defense must be argued at trial.  It may be a bit optimistic to assume a district court judge would apply the proof beyond a reasonable doubt standard when considering this defense.  Leaving a child unattended is actual a fairly common offense, and many times the defendant was simply running a quick errand.  In this incident, reports alleged the children had been left in the car for up to an hour, which further adds to the aggravating nature of the defendant’s case.

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1380109_the_maryland_state_house-300x229A coalition of people including lawmakers and religious leaders recently filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the Maryland governor’s stay at home order that has been in effect for several weeks.  The order required the shuttering of all non-essential businesses and banned gatherings of more than 10 people under all circumstances.  Even as talk of reopening the state has picked up steam, there is no firm end in sight and business owners are beyond restless.  The lawsuit, which was filed in the Baltimore City federal courthouse, challenges the constitutionality of the governor’s order.  This is not the first lawsuit of its kind, as federal judges in numerous other jurisdictions have heard similar motions.  There is no timetable as to when a ruling will come down in this particular motion, but the Attorney General’s Office is not backing down.  Reports indicate the AG submitted a memo of law citing prior decisions where federal courts have denied similar challenges to state executive orders.  Case law is pretty clear that governors have broad authority to act during public health emergencies, and at this point there is nothing in the Maryland order that seems reversible.

By the time a federal judge issues a ruling in this case the motion may be moot, as reports seem to indicate that the number of patients hospitalized with Covid-19 has plateaued in Maryland.  Still, we could be weeks away from a reopening that would satisfy the group that filed the motion.  The governor and other state officials recently introduced a three-phase plan that would begin with an opening of lower risk business and entities such as small shops, outdoor gym and fitness classes, outdoor recreation facilities, and limited attendance outdoor religious gatherings.  Phase two would include medium risk businesses and entities such as indoor gyms, childcare centers, restaurants and bars (with restrictions), indoor religious gatherings and elective medical procedures.  The final phase includes high risk activities such as entertainment venues, high capacity bars and restaurants and larger gatherings among people.

Anyone who reads through Maryland’s roadmap to recovery PDF will see that there is no mention of the judiciary or any courthouse guidelines.  The judiciary is an independent branch of government, and as such may not legally be able to be controlled by the governor’s office.  Thus far, the judiciary has been acting alongside the governor’s office in closing down to the public, but it will be interesting to see what happens in the coming weeks.  Maryland state courts are currently only operating on an emergency basis, and are closed to the public.  As of now the district and circuit courts around the state are scheduled to open to the public on June 7, but there is still a great deal of uncertainty whether this will actually happen.  If the courts do open on the first Monday in June there are also no firm details on what the courthouse experience will look like.  It certainly will not be business as usual, with packed courtrooms and long lines at security.  Many court clerks are still holding off on resetting cases that have been postponed, as some cases have been rescheduled numerous times due to fluid nature of the reopening date.

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plane-3619641__480-300x200This past Friday planes equipped with high tech surveillance cameras began flying over Baltimore City as part of an experimental effort to solve violent crimes.  The planes will be in the air for up to 6 months, and the footage will be monitored on the ground by officers from the Baltimore Police Department.  City taxpayers are not footing the bill for the planes or the cameras, as a Texas based philanthropic organization has already pledged $3.7 million to conduct the pilot program.  The aerial surveillance system uses wide angle lenses that can allegedly monitor 90% of the city, though the planes will only fly during the daytime and the aerial cameras will be not be able to make out faces or read license plates.  The hope is that the aerial footage can be used to supplement Citywatch street cameras and other technology on the ground.  After a crime is reported an analyst will rewind footage to the location, and follow suspects or vehicles until a higher definition camera on the ground can communicate identifying information to police.

Despite the fact that people and cars will only appear as a pixel that reveals no personal identifying information, the ACLU tried to block the pilot program by filing for a restraining order in the United States District Court.  The ACLU argued that the program is unconstitutional, and has the power to track every private citizen in Baltimore as soon as they walk out their front door.  They also argued that continuous aerial surveillance infringes upon reasonable expectations of privacy regarding movements, that could result in warrantless searches, and compared the program to a police officer following every resident wherever they go.  Law enforcement and the company flying the planes have stated they have no intention of following any citizen unless it is in direct response to the occurrence of an egregious violent crime.  Specific crimes cited by BPD include murder, attempted murder, armed robbery, carjacking and shootings.  A federal judge unsurprisingly denied the request for restraining order, citing that federal courts have previously upheld greater government encroachment in the past.

The Blog will certainly continue to follow this story and will post a follow up article in the future as news develops.  The media, politicians and citizens will be waiting to see how effective the pilot program is at solving crime, but from a criminal law standpoint solving crime does not mean simply making an arrest.  In any case where aerial surveillance was used to capture a suspect there is a high likelihood that the defendant’s criminal defense lawyer will move to suppress the evidence.  As long as the police department follows the protocol and limits the surveillance to its intended purpose these motions likely will be unsuccessful.  It does not seem overly intrusive to have low definition cameras overhead, and there is a much lower expectation to privacy when a person is out in public.  On the other hand, the BPD has proven to be incapable at following rules in the past so there may be some angles for lawyers to explore.  If the program does have documented success there is every reason to believe we’ll start seeing planes fly in other smaller geographical areas with high crime rates such as St. Louis, Detroit, Memphis and the South Side of Chicago.

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