Case Files: CHAPTER 1


Maryland has appropriately been described as "America in Miniature". Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, experienced land surveyors were employed by the Penns and the Calverts, the principal land owners in their respective regions to establish the boundary line between Pennsylvania and Maryland.. By 1767 the Mason-Dixon Line was drawn and soon became a popular dividing line between the Northern and Southern states. Mason and Dixon also established the boundary line between Maryland and of the colony of Delaware and the areas surrounding the Potomac River in the Chesapeake Bay. The distinct geographical regions stretching from the Atlantic Ocean in the East to West Virginia reflected a wide variety of distinct historical, economic, ethnic, cultural and political differences and concerns.

The Chesapeake Bay including the tributaries contains over 6000 miles of shoreline and is the largest inland body of water leading to the Atlantic Ocean. At its' Southern end it is from 10 to 25 miles wide and in the north its width varies from three to 10 miles. Hundreds of tributary rivers and creeks flow into the 40 rivers which connect directly to the bay. All of these many miles of water are title and with the exception of the Susquehanna River at the northern end of all the navigable for their entire length. This is the largest bay in the United States and has been the source of a rich variety of seafood including fish of many varieties, oysters, clams and crabs. Many families on the eastern side of the bay having lived there for many generations in the same Tidewater Counties. They have often earned their living as farmers or Watermen or a combination of those strenuous occupations and they stubbornly preserved local traditions and attitudes and remained fiercely independent in their isolated region.

Maryland was classified as a "border state" not only because of its geographical location but also because with its history of economic dependence on slavery to support its agricultural base, it shared with The Southern States ,Southern traditions, culture and attitudes. Many Marylanders had relatives in the South and tens of thousands proudly joined the Confederate armies during the Civil War. No other industrial region in the north shared a similar rapport with the Confederacy. Baltimore supplied much capital to help rebuild the South after it had been defeated so that the bonds between them was strengthened. Baltimore regained its economic stability by trading extensively with its southern neighbor's and Maryland clearly supported the South's efforts to avoid The Federal Government's attempts to emancipate black people politically and economically during The Reconstruction Era.

In Maryland there are 24 separate jurisdictions, each maintaining its own local government and its own District Court and Circuit Court. Most of the Courthouses were located in the center of the most populated town in the county, usually the setting for all local government in the county . They were situated purposefully on a large "courthouse lawn" and played a critical role in the social and political life there particularly on the Eastern shore.. The history of these courthouses and the judges that control them and consequently the surrounding county is an alarming one. Initially, most of the lawyers and judges were illiterate and a court day in the early 1700s was often a drunken festival with court sessions becoming drunken brawls. Land was cheap however agriculture centered around the production of tobacco and corn was a labor-intensive and was supplied not only by slaves but also by the indentured servants who had agreed to work for seven years in exchange for the price of the boat ride from England to Maryland. Many English and Irish prisoners were deported to Maryland to supply manual labor and make room for others in England's desperately overcrowded prisons. Many of the 30,000 convicts who were transported to Maryland before the Revolutionary war considered themselves fortunate not to be executed or shipped to Australia or the Caribbean where disease, heat and the brutality of life on the sugar plantations resulted in a very limited life span.

Auctions and "estate sales" were conducted on the lawn outside each courthouse and as a consequence black slaves chained to especially designed fixtures were a common sight with prospective buyers closely examining " the property" for sale so that the purchaser could determine how much to bid. White servants would also be manacled to prevent their escape and they would also be sold to the highest bidder. This "white property" sale usually occurred to facilitate the transfer or acquisition of indentured servants whose owners had died and whose "last will and testament" included these valuable assets.

The early colonists had bitterly resented the fact that they could be transported for prosecution and trial in England thereby effectively denying them the opportunity to defend themselves in any meaningful way. The British Empire had effectively controlled its domains in this manner. In the mid-17th century for example Oliver Plunkett, a Jesuit in Ireland had ignored the prohibition against teaching common people how to read and write in violation of the law and had been whisked away to London where he was imprisoned for 18 months and eventually tried and executed. His head was removed and displayed on a stake in Tilbury England for a short while.. Many Americans had suffered the same fate.

At an earlier time people in England always had the right to be tried in the vicinity where the crime had taken place because the jury was composed of people who had knowledge of the facts and of the accused and were required when necessary to conduct their own investigation. As the adversarial judicial system evolved impartial jurors were selected and where required to make factual determinations based upon the presentation of the two parties to the dispute. However it became an inherent right to be tried where the crime had allegedly taken place to safeguard against the unfairness and hardship involved when an accused is prosecuted in some remote venue.

Consequently the Sixth Amendment to The United States Constitution provides a defendant the right to a trial "In the State And District wherein the crime shall have been committed......". Similarly, Article 20 Of the Declaration of Rights of the Maryland Constitution requires trial of the facts where they arise. In capital cases however there is for the accused an absolute right to request and be granted "removal" from the area where the crime occurred to avoid the inherent unfairness of having to be judged by jurors who might be prejudiced against the accused and outraged by the crime which occurred in their community. Sometimes provisions in State Constitutions are inconsistent with each other. For example Article 4 of the Constitution of the State of Maryland provides "In All Cases or presentment's or indictments for offenses that are punishable by death, on suggestion in writing, under oath of either of the parties to the preceding that the policy cannot have a fair and impartial trial In the Court in which the proceedings may be pending, The Court shall order and direct the record of proceedings and the presentment or indictment to be transmitted To Some Other Court having jurisdiction in such case for trial". This would seem to allow the prosecutor is simply file such an affidavit and defeat the individual's right to be tried in the place where the crime happened! Thus in every capital case the trial could be removed to a faraway county which in a diversified state like Maryland could mean trial where few people if any share the same heritage as the defendant. This dilemma is easily resolved because no State law whether established by a State Constitution or otherwise can be valid if it violates the United States Constitution. Consequently because the right to removal of a case is " absolute" for the accused, the prosecutor must yield to the accused's wishes in capital cases. In all other prosecutions, a trial judge can remove the case from its jurisdiction if either party can demonstrate that it cannot obtain a fair trial.

Unfortunately while the accused can insist upon removing a capital case, he has no control or input over where a case will be sent. There is no articulated method of deciding where the case will be sent and consequently the transfer can be subject to the prejudices or personal preferences or individual whims of the transferring court. In a diversified State such as Maryland some counties are demonstrably more prosecution prone than others and there are vast differences in the ethnic composition and heritage between some of these separate jurisdictions. It can be like the difference between England and its colonies, day and night or more accurately life-and-death

All of the 24 separate jurisdictions in Maryland elect their own State's Attorney (District Attorney or D.A.) every four years. These jurisdictions were often vastly different and included urban areas and sparsely populated rural areas, with some being a mixture of both. Most all of the jurisdictions had a population of less than 25,000 and as a consequence The State's Attorney was a well-known public figure.

In the smaller jurisdictions sometimes his father or his grandfather had also been the elected States Attorney orl had served as the only Circuit Court Judge in the jurisdiction.. He was usually well-respected and influential and knew many of his constituents and potential jurors personally. Consequently when a case was removed to his jurisdiction he would sit at the trial table during jury selection and help the out of town prosecutor choose the jury. He might know little or nothing about the case to be tried however his presence there would make it look to the potential jurors that he was thoroughly familiar with the case and he was thus putting his personal prestige and the prestige of his office behind the prosecution! He could also inform the traveling prosecutor about the backgrounds of most of these people. The traveling defense attorney was not given this same inside information. What was their attitude towards law and order or race? Were they hard working? Did they attend church ? Did they come from a troubled family? Did they beat their wives or husbands? Once the jury was chosen the local State Attorney was no longer needed except to drop by the courtroom every now and again!

Buy the Book

Available for purchase or download today.