Thomas G. WitkopLaw Offices

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Montgomery County public library has many online resources

This is an unusual blog and has nothing to do with legal content but I thought that someone out there might be interested in this powerful resource. The Montgomery County public library website has Consumer Reports as well as many other publications online. If you need to find Consumer Reports online all you need is your library card. I hope that the below directions are understandable. I received them from the librarian and they work for me.

Go to www.MontgomeryCountyMd.gov. At some point it will ask for your library card number, put that in.

Go to the most popular page
click on a-Z electronic resources
click on M
click on Masterfile Premier

Go to the Blue Bar and Click on Publications
in the second search box type in Consumer Reports
click on Consumer Reports
you can search within this publication or each individual year

When you find your general topic look to the left and open up the PDF. You will have the complete article.

Bonus points to the individual who finds the article that describes how to rate a law firm.
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Tree Sap Acquits My Client

Sometimes nobody gets it including yours truly. The prosecutor did not get the case, the judge did not get part of the case, I did not get the whole case. My client was charged with theft of a Kawasaki all-terrain vehicle in Charles County. The facts were that the victim had his all-terrain vehicle stolen from his house in February of 2008. In July of 2009 my client along with three other Hispanic males was inside of his van and was parked in a remote area in Charles County. Somebody saw that and called the police because it seemed suspicious. The police came and saw that there were four Hispanic males inside of the van and that there was an ATV in the van also. The officer thought this was suspicious. The officer ordered the men out of the van and ordered them to remove the all-terrain vehicle and began checking the vehicle identification number. Initially, it came back negative-it was not stolen. Not long after that communications contacted the officer and advised that the vehicle was indeed stolen.

My client was charged with theft of the all-terrain vehicle even though the theft had occurred 17 months earlier.

The prosecutor refused to drop the case. The defendants appeared three times in District Court and each time the case was continued for one reason or another. Finally we requested a jury trial. Still the prosecutor would not drop the case. I could not understand how they would prove this case? They provided the discovery information and there was nothing else in it. My client did not admit to stealing the all-terrain vehicle. There were no witnesses who could prove that he stole it from the house. My client had told the police officer that he and his friends had seen deer in the woods and followed the deer into the woods and came upon this vehicle. The vehicle appeared to be abandoned and in a ditch and so they took it. There was no license plate on the vehicle. There was no evidence that the vehicle had recently been driven. The ignition had not been popped.

At trial the owner of the vehicle testified that his vehicle was stolen from his home in February 2008. In July of 2009 he was contacted by the police and he went down to identify his vehicle. He took his keys along. When he saw the vehicle. On cross examination I want to establish that the vehicle was abandoned. The owner admitted that the vehicle was covered in tree sap. The owner admitted that the engine was cool to the touch which would suggest that the vehicle had not recently been started. It was determined that my client and his friends had no riding gear with them-no motorcycle helmets, boots, etc. All of this was consistent with what my client had told the officer that they had found it and it seemed abandoned.

The officer testified that the situation seemed suspicious. I could not figure out how this was suspicious. The license plate on the car was legitimate. My client's driver's license was legitimate. I think what seemed suspicious is that you had four Hispanic men in a van. Strangely, the judge found this to be sufficiently suspicious to allow the officer to further investigate. The judge was troubled with the officer's order to remove the van because the judge could not see how the officer had probable cause at that point.

They called two other witnesses and I do not believe they added anything to the case. One of them lived in the area and I was able to establish that there was a large woods where the ATV was found. The other one I did not even bother cross examining.

After this evidence the state rested.

I did not even have to put on a defense. The judge granted our motion for judgment of acquittal. The evidence was completely consistent with people finding an abandoned vehicle in the woods. He could not see how the state could prove that my client intended to steal the vehicle. There was no evidence that he stole the vehicle. My client was found not guilty of the charge.

After the trial the prosecutor still did not get it. She was arguing to me her theory of the case which had just been completely debunked. I finally did get it, the prosecution had no case and never could make a case.
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Just because the police officer says you're drunk does not necessarily mean that you are drunk

My client was just acquitted on all charges for drunk driving after a trial on the merits. The police officer stopped my client for speeding. He smelled a strong odor of alcohol, claimed that my client's speech was slurred, his eyes were bloodshot and watery, that he put his foot down five times on the one leg stand test and raised his arms too high and that he took too many steps on the walk and turn test and missed heel to toe. Also my client admitted drinking two shots of alcohol and one beer. The officer was of the opinion that my client was intoxicated.

On cross examination the officer admitted that other than speeding my client was driving the car in a normal manner. My client was able to produce his license from his wallet without any problems. My client communicated accurately with the officer. The officer wasn't positive as to the surface where the Field sobriety tests were done. The officer could not remember if there was anybody else in the car (my client had a very drunk woman in the car who smelled of alcohol). The officer could not remember if he himself lost his balance showing the Field sobriety tests.

We had a witness who stated that he was the DJ at the bar where my client was. He saw my client come in and thought my client was sober. My client was there one hour. When the bar closed my client felt the DJ unload all of his equipment including two 150 pound speakers which were on telescopic stands. My client wrapped up the electrical cables in a neat fashion. My client peeled tape off the floor. My client had no trouble doing these things and left right after that and within five minutes. By the officer. The DJ thought that my client was sober.

My client testified that he had had one shot and had ordered two beers but realized he was on antibiotics and only drink the shot and half of the beer. My client thought that he was sober.

The judge could not find beyond a reasonable doubt that my client was intoxicated or under the influence or even impaired and acquitted him of these charges.

The point is, just because the state claims something is so, does not mean that the trier of fact will believe that beyond a reasonable doubt.
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New Maryland Procedure: Drivers Must Notify the Court after a Moving Violation

As of January 1, 2011 drivers receiving a moving violation in Maryland have a different procedure. In the old days, the court would automatically send them any notice of a court date. This is no longer the case.

Drivers who receive a moving violation ticket must now affirmatively act within 30 days after receiving the ticket by either paying the ticket for requesting a trial date. If they do neither their license will be suspended. They must do one or the other to protect their driving privilege.
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A Good Lawyer Knows the Judge

There is a saying that a good lawyer knows the law but a great lawyer knows the judge. Allow me to toot my own horn.

Recently I represented one of four codefendants in a massive shoplifting spree. All four codefendants had lawyers and all four cases were set on the same trial date. The prosecution offered guilty pleas to two counts of theft and would recommend probation to the judge. Three of the defendants on the advice of their attorneys took these guilty pleas expecting to get probation.

I investigated the evidence further and was very concerned with what this particular judge would do with a shoplifting spree of this nature. The three defendants who were pleading guilty would admit to going through no less than four different stores in a one-hour time span stealing over $1500 worth of merchandise. Even though the prosecution was recommending probation I was concerned that the judge would incarcerate these other defendants. My client was also a green card holder and a felony conviction, which was offered, would have exposed him to immigration consequences including deportation.

Based on my investigation and uneasiness I elected to go to trial. Before my client's trial began the other defendants actually pled guilty in front of the judge and each defendant received either six months in jail or three months in jail and the judge set an appeal bond of $50,000. This basically guaranteed that these defendants would remain in jail while the matter worked its way through the system. I was very pleased not to take the guilty plea on behalf of my client.

Based on the fact that the judge had now heard three guilty pleas and was quite familiar with the "facts" of the case it was decided that this judge might not be able to fairly hear this case. Because we elected a trial we were sent to a different judge for the trial.

In my case my client was charged with six counts of various forms of theft. After the trial my client was acquitted of five of the six counts. On the only count upon which he was convicted in my case, he was sentenced to 30 days of jail which is certainly much better than three months or six months in jail. Further, my client's appeal bond was only $4000 instead of $50,000. Knowing what the judge might do and fighting for my client saved my client a great deal of jail time.
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False Peace Order Accusation

My client was accused of stalking a stranger. She claimed that my client was following her for approximately 10 minutes at 12:20 PM on November 29 in Silver Spring. She gave a very detailed description of the stalking and harassing activity. She stated further that the next day she saw him at the convenience store and again he was staring at her and bothering her. On cross examination I pinned her down as to exactly the time and place where the original stalking and harassing occurred.

My client testified that he was in a staff meeting at that date and time in College Park. I had his boss and the secretary also testify that he was there. Clearly the judge found in our favor and in his written decision stated that "there was no evidence of anything" that the respondent did. I don't think that the petitioner was mentally unstable or lying but clearly made a case of mistaken identity. It cost my client money, time and potentially reputation.

There may be a mechanism to clear his reputation. If you knew my client's name you could find him on the Maryland Judiciary case search website. My client is an important man with national security clearance. Maryland's Gen. assembly ennacted a statute which took effect on October 1, 2010 providing for sealing or shielding of cases of this nature which result in either dropped charges or a dismissal. If you have a peace order or domestic violence petition against you and it is dismissed or you win in court, you should look into having the case sealed were shielded from public view. I would be happy to assist you.
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Can I Expunge My Maryland Driving Record?

It is not unusual for a client to ask me whether they can expunge their Maryland driving record. The general assembly has created a statute directly on point and it is below. Please note that this statute is from 2010 and by the time you look at this may not be up to date. It should give you a pretty good general idea whether you can have your driving record expunged. If you have any questions you can contact me for further advice.

Section 16-117.1 Expungement of certain driving records

(a) "Criminal offense" defined.- In this section, "criminal offense" does not include any violation of the Maryland Vehicle Law.

(b) When Administration may expunge records.- Except as provided in subsections (c) and (e) of this section and in Subtitle 8 of this title, if a licensee applies for the expungement of the licensee's public driving record, the Administration shall expunge the record if, at the time of application:

(1) The licensee does not have charges pending for allegedly committing a moving violation or a criminal offense involving a motor vehicle; and

(2) (i) The licensee has not been convicted of a moving violation or a criminal offense involving a motor vehicle for the preceding 3 years, and the licensee's license never has been suspended or revoked;

(ii) The licensee has not been convicted of a moving violation or a criminal offense involving a motor vehicle for the preceding 5 years, and the licensee's record shows not more than one suspension and no revocations; or

(iii) Within the preceding 10 years:

1. The licensee has not been convicted of nor been granted probation before judgment for a violation of Sec. 20-102 or Sec. 21-902 of this article;

2. The licensee's driving record shows no convictions from another jurisdiction of a moving violation identical or substantially similar to Sec. 20-102 or Sec. 21-902 of this article; and

3. The licensee has not been convicted of any other moving violation or criminal offense involving a motor vehicle, regardless of the number of suspensions or revocations.

(c) When Administration may refuse to expunge.- The Administration may refuse to expunge a driving record if it determines that the individual requesting the expungement has not driven a motor vehicle on the highways during the particular conviction-free period on which the request is based.

(d) Required expungements.- The Administration shall expunge from its driver record data base the driving record of an individual or a probation before judgment disposition of an individual:

(1) Who has not been convicted of a moving violation or criminal offense involving a motor vehicle for the preceding 3 years;

(2) Who has not been convicted of, or been granted probation before judgment for:

(i) A violation of Sec. 20-102 of this article;

(ii) A violation of Sec. 21-902 of this article; or

(iii) A moving violation identical or substantially similar to Sec. 20-102 or Sec. 21-902 of this article; and

(3) Whose license or privilege to drive never has been suspended or revoked.

(e) Early expungement prohibited.- Notwithstanding any other provision of this section, the Administration may not expunge any driving records before the expiration of the time they are required to be retained under Sec. 16-819 of this title.

[An. Code 1957, art. 661/2, Sec. 6-117; 1977, ch. 14, Sec. 2; 1982, ch. 99; 1989, ch. 291, Sec. 2; ch. 376; 1992, ch. 541; 1993, ch. 322; 1994, ch. 23; 1998, ch. 483; 1999, ch. 647; 2008, ch. 275.]

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Man Falsely Accused of Robbery Acquitted after Jury Trial

A young man charged with armed robbery, robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery was acquitted after the alleged victim's testimony was discredited. The victim in this case told police that he and his friend were beaten by at least six young men two of whom had a stick and a baseball bat. The young men were arrested based on these accusations and jailed, some of them from the incident date all the way until trial.

At trial the victim identified my client as his attacker. During the trial it was revealed that the victim had had six regular sized beers in a one half hour interval shortly before the attack. It was further revealed that the victim almost immediately got on the ground and covered his face to protect himself. It was further revealed that it was very dark out and the victim had little time to look at his attackers. At the time of the attack the victim could not give any specific description of any of the men other than they were young and their race. He could not describe hairstyle, facial features, the size of the men. Finally, the witness testified that my client had a tattoo on his neck.

Prior to trial an investigator was sent to speak with the victim and she took his statement and his statement included the fact that my client had a tattoo on his neck.

At trial it was abundantly obvious that my client did not have a tattoo on his neck and frankly never had a tattoo on his neck. The jury took only a short while to quit my client of all charges.
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Car strikes bicycle rider, bicycle rider wins (not really, but it makes for an interesting title)!



Several days ago I tried a case in the district court of Maryland for Montgomery County. In this case my client was a young woman bicyclist heading home from work going N. On Connecticut Ave. in Washington DC. It was 6 PM in December and she had her blinking rear light on. She needed to make a left turn Fessenden street and as she was approaching Fessenden Street she worked her way over to traffic signal in all the way. As she was just making a left turn on Fessenden Street a van came by on her left and its right mirror struck her in the left hip knocking her off the bicycle into the intersection. A bystander did not see the accident but did see the van pass through the intersection and stop 40 feet north of the intersection. He saw the bicyclist in the left lane on the ground. Significantly, the pedestrian said that the traffic light for the North and southbound directions was green.

The insurance company denied liability despite the fact that my client and the witness were very credible.

We filed suit and when the case was called for trial by client and the witness testified consistent with above. The van driver testified that he was completely stopped at the light and that the bicyclist was also stopped to his right. When the light turned green he proceeded 1 foot forward approximately and the bicyclist somehow struck his van pushing the mirror out of shape. Incredibly, he testified further that he no longer saw the bicyclist and continued up the street, into ongoing traffic and stopped the car to investigate.

The judge credited the testimony of the plaintiff bicyclist and her witness and concluded that the van driver was mistaken about his testimony. The judge awarded the full amount requested for the injuries that the bicyclist suffered.
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Defendant Who Shot Two People Received Suspended Sentence-You Need to Look at the Whole Picture before Making a Judgment

I found the following newspaper article in the Montgomery Gazette. My client was originally charged with attempted murder after he shot two people. In the end he pled guilty to two counts of reckless endangerment and received a suspended sentence. My client did not get away with anything, it is just that after the state of Maryland and below counsel were able to investigate the matter, a more complete set of facts developed and reason prevailed.

A Montgomery Village man has been sentenced to time served for shooting into a crowd of people outside his house and injuring two, including his cousin.

Richard Anthony Ortiz Jr., 19, and his then 17-year-old cousin were at their home in the 9300 block of Bremerton Way in Montgomery Village on May 19 when four or five men knocked on their door about 6 p.m., according to Montgomery County Police charging documents. His cousin went outside by himself over Ortiz's objections.

Ortiz heard a commotion and opened the door. He saw his cousin surrounded by a small crowd and struggling with a then 23-year-old man, according to the documents. Ortiz grabbed a gun, told the other people in the house to go downstairs and fired into the crowd to scare off the group.

A bullet hit Ortiz's cousin in the back and exited through his stomach. The 23-year-old man was shot in the neck, according to the documents. Neither man suffered life-threatening injuries.

The 23-year-old fled to a house near Arrowhead Road and Rothbury Drive in Montgomery Village and told the residents that someone was chasing him, according to the documents. Police were called.

Ortiz administered first aid to his cousin and walked to Rothbury to meet police.

"I have a [2-year-old] daughter and the day she was born was the day I changed a lot and became more protective of my family," Ortiz, who is now employed and living with relatives in Silver Spring, said at the Oct. 4 hearing in Montgomery County Circuit Court in Rockville. "I know [the 23-year-old] has four of his own and I'm happy that God didn't decide to put that kind of pressure on me of taking someone's life, knowing he has kids."

The .38-caliber revolver was unregistered and illegally purchased, Ortiz's Rockville attorney Thomas G. Witkop said at the hearing. Ortiz does not know who he bought the gun from, Witkop said.

Ortiz purchased the gun for protection after he and his cousin were robbed by three masked men while walking home last winter, Witkop said. The cousin's nostril was slit and a tendon in Ortiz's arm was cut, he said.

Witkop said in an interview that the cousin and the 23-year-old were in a physical fight and that Ortiz feared for his relative's life and made a poor decision.

"This guy's in his home defending himself," Witkop said. "He wasn't looking for any trouble, he was minding his own business. He wasn't an instigator."

Ortiz was indicted in June on two counts of first-degree assault, two counts of reckless endangerment and one count of using a handgun in commission of a violent crime. He pleaded guilty to two counts of reckless endangerment and was sentenced to two years in prison with all but one day suspended by Judge Joseph A. Dugan Jr.

Ortiz was given credit for one day of time served in a plea agreement accepted by Dugan.

"I don't like people out in the street with handguns that don't have a license for them and I don't like people like you, at age 19, blazing away out in front of your house," Dugan said at the hearing.

"Little girls need love and affection from their fathers and you can't give that if you're in the penitentiary."

Ortiz has been known to associate with members of a local offshoot of the Bloods gang, Assistant State's Attorney Jeffrey Wennar said, and he tested positive for marijuana three times while awaiting trial.

Dugan said Ortiz's cousin was selling drugs.

Ortiz violated his curfew on at least three occasions while awaiting trial, according to court documents, once disappearing for three days. He also failed to report to his probation officer at least once, missed a substance abuse treatment class and failed to appear at a court date.

Ortiz pleaded guilty to marijuana possession in July, according to an online state court records database.

The reporter who wrote this was Ms. Tierney and I appreciate her balanced approach to the article.


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