1 N. Charles St., Suite 1301
Baltimore, MD 21201
Phone: 410-244-5444
FAX: 410-934-3208
1
/
3
/

Our Story

Brown Law was formed with a fundamental goal: to provide high-end legal counsel with integrity. We are driven by the understanding that many of our clients face life-altering challenges. We thrive when the stakes are highest. Because of our past success, we are confident that we can deliver for you.

See more

“Mr. Brown saved my life. I owe him everything.”

B.P. (former client),

“We owe C. Justin Brown such a debt of gratitude and there is nothing I can write… that will do justice to how my family and I feel about him and the job he did in representing my brother in a recent criminal defense case.”

J.N. (former client),

“This firm is extremely good at what it does and offers an excellent professional relationship with clients by making them feel at ease even in the most dire situations. The firm rose high above my expectations…”

B.P. (former client),

“I highly recommend this firm . They put in the hard work it takes to win. They really see you as a person not just another client… They keep you well informed and explains everything clearly and listen.

P.W. (former client),

Recent blog posts

NOT GUILTY: Brown Law Wins Federal Jury Trial

January 12, 2020
Jury trials are very rare in the federal system. Acquittals are even rarer. Despite the overwhelming odds, C. Justin Brown and Lylian Romero won a hard fought “not guilty” verdict last week, vindicating their client in United States v. Johnson, CCB-19-22. Johnson was charged with federal witness retaliation, and prosecutors aggressively pursued the case. Johnson maintained his innocence from the outset. A four-day jury trial ensued in the United States District Court for Maryland, with Judge Catherine Blake presiding. Prosecutors attempted to focus the trial on prior bad acts that Johnson had committed earlier in his life, but the defense was able to fight off much of this evidence in pretrial motions litigation. Once the jury was seated, prosecutors tried to hang their case on the testimony of two cooperating witnesses, both of whom claimed that Johnson had confessed to them. The jailhouse cooperators were promised reduced sentences in exchange for their testimony. The Government proceeded in this manner despite the fact that jailhouse informants are among the least reliable witnesses. In fact, one of the Government’s cooperating witnesses had testified against two other defendants in unrelated cases, and both of those cases resulted in acquittals. (The judge, however, found that this fact was irrelevant and did not allow it into evidence in Johnson’s case). Brown and Romero defended the case by attacking the credibility of the cooperators, pointing out weaknesses in the Government’s investigation, and articulating a counter-narrative – telling the Jury what really happened. Mr. Johnson testified credibly in his own defense. After hearing all the evidence, the Jury deliberated over the course of two days. On January 10, 2020, they reached a decision and passed a note to the Judge. The courtroom deputy asked the Jury for its verdict as to count one of the indictment, and the Jury Foreman solemnly stated “Not Guilty.” While we will never know how and why the Jury reached its decision, it would appear that the Jury wisely rejected the testimony of the Government’s cooperating witnesses and sided with the more credible testimony of Mr. Johnson and other defense witnesses. *** So how hard is it to win a federal jury trial? In the most recent statistics, from 2018, less than 1 percent of federal defendants won at trial. According to the Pew Research Center, there were only 320 acquittals nationwide out of some 80,000 federal cases. This represents a fundamental flaw in our criminal justice system. The laws and rules have become so favorable to the Government that the notion of a “fair” trial is questionable. Federal judges penalize defendants so severely for going to trial that the risk often becomes untenable. Meanwhile, prosecutors, who have all the resources in the world, take advantage of this dynamic, and threaten recalcitrant defendants with sentencing enhancements and additional charges if they exercise their constitutional right to a trial. The result is that most defendants – even those who are innocent – decide to cut their losses and accept a guilty plea on

Firm Wins Post-Conviction, Reverses Murder Conviction

September 4, 2019
Brown Law won another Maryland post-conviction proceeding recently, reversing a murder conviction and winning a new trial for Mohammad Biglari, a man who has maintained his innocence for the past 27 years. This marks the seventh time the Firm has obtained an order reversing a life sentence. The Opinion can be uploaded HERE. The Baltimore City Circuit Court’s ruling granting post-conviction relief was based on ineffective assistance of trial counsel that occurred in 1994. Trial counsel at the time made an inexplicable error by not using a police report to impeach the lead investigating detective when he testified at trial. The police report memorialized the victim’s complaint that her ex-husband had previously assaulted and threatened to kill her. This established the ex-husband as strong alternative suspect. Yet, the Jury never heard this information – because trial counsel never brought it up. Instead, Biglari was convicted on weak, circumstantial evidence. Biglari, meanwhile, steadfastly asserted his innocence, and, after his first conviction was reversed on other grounds, he was tried a second and, eventually, a third time. At the third trial, new defense counsel attempted to suggest the same alternative suspect who was never brought up in the first case. Counsel attempted to do so by introducing the exculpatory contents of the police report, but he could not do so because the investigating detective had died. Without the detective, there was no viable way to introduce the evidence to the Jury, and trial counsel’s hands were tied. Biglari was then convicted a third time. The post-conviction court in its recent opinion ruled that the ineffectiveness of the first trial counsel, from 1994, could be transferred to the third trial because the deceased police detective’s testimony had been read to the Jury in the third trial. Thus, the third trial had been infected by the errors from the first trial, and Mr. Biglari had been denied his Sixth Amendment right to the effective assistance of counsel. The Baltimore City Circuit Court vacated Biglari’s conviction and ordered a new trial. The argument that won the post-conviction is likely the first of its kind. UPDATE: On Feb. 21, 2020, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals denied the State of Maryland’s Application for Leave to Appeal, thereby affirming the Circuit Court’s decision granting post-conviction relief. This means Mr. Biglari’s conviction is officially erased from the books and he will get a new trial!

Fourth Circuit’s Huge Pro-Defendant Ruling: US v. Gary

March 25, 2020
The Fourth Circuit today issued a significant ruling that could help a large number of federal inmates who pleaded guilty to being a “felon in possession of a firearm,” in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). The decision from the Fourth Circuit today stems from the Supreme Court’s decision last summer in Rehaif v. United States. In that case, the Supreme Court held that the Government must prove that a defendant charged under § 922(g) not only possessed a firearm, but that they were aware of their status as a person who was not allowed to possess a gun. In United States v. Gary, the Fourth Circuit held that the error to inform a defendant of that element of the charge during the guilty plea is a structural error that invalidates the conviction. A defendant cannot knowingly and intelligently plead guilty to a crime without proper notice of all of the elements of the offense. When a court fails to inform a defendant of an element – in this case the Government’s burden to prove defendant’s knowledge of their status as a prohibited person – the guilty plea cannot be valid. In Gary, a case originating in North Carolina, the Fourth Circuit rejected the Government’s argument that the evidence was “overwhelming” that the defendant knew he was a prohibited person. Significantly, the Court held that the evidence didn’t matter – and the defendant did not need to prove prejudice – because a person has a fundamental right to be informed of the charges against him, making the failure to do so structural. A structural error is one that affects a defendant’s substantial rights, thus broadening the implications of the error. Even prior to the decision in Gary, the Supreme Court’s decision in Rehaif opened up potential avenues of relief to inmates. This decision strengthens those claims greatly. Any defendant who pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession could potentially be entitled to relief, which may include a possible vacatur of the § 922(g) conviction. This is yet another sign that the Fourth Circuit has turned into a panel that takes the rights of criminal defendants very seriously. In a circuit where 96.4% of cases result in pleas, a ruling like this is impactful. It seems likely, however, that the Government will appeal the decision, potentially up to the Supreme Court. If you or a someone you know pleaded guilty to a federal charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm, relief may be possible under Rehaif and, now, Gary. But be warned: there is a strict deadline for filing a motion for relief under 28 U.S.C § 2255, and the clock is already running. Please contact an attorney immediately.

Some COVID-19 Relief for Inmates

March 23, 2020
Brown Law has been contacted by many inmates and their families asking what relief is available for incarcerated individuals who are vulnerable to the coronavirus – whether because of age or medical condition. As of now, there are two groups that can potentially obtain relief: those who are detained while awaiting trial, and those who are nearing the end of their sentence. We will continue to monitor the situation and seek other types of relief to meet our clients’ needs. In the meantime, one thing is becoming clear: it is only a matter of time before we see outbreaks in the jails and prisons across the country. It appears this is already occurring in New York. This is hardly surprising. Inmates lack access to the most basic tools to fight against the spread of the virus, including, in some cases, hand sanitizer and soap. Social distancing is not an option for inmates who spend every minute of the day in close proximity with dozens of other men and women. On top of this fear of becoming sick, family and legal visits have been suspended at many facilities, including all federal prisons. Not only are inmates dealing with unsafe, unsanitary conditions, but they are unable to see their loved ones or meet with their advocates. Some steps have been taken to provide relief to specific populations of inmates and to slow the spread of COVID-19. In Baltimore City, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby has vowed to stop prosecuting minor, non-violent crimes like drug possession, prostitution, or minor traffic offenses. In theory this may help stem the flow of new individuals into the system – but it does nothing to protect those who are already locked up. Mosby also requested that Governor Hogan release inmates over the age of 60, anyone approved for parole, and all prisoners scheduled to complete their sentences within the next year. However, Hogan dismissed the idea, stating his belief that inmates were likely safer in prison than if they were released. Relief for at this point is generally limited.  Unfortunately, for those actively serving their sentences, relief can likely only be granted either through the Governor (state sentences) or the President (federal sentences). However, there may be opportunities for relief for those who are in pretrial detention and those who are nearing completion of their sentences. For pretrial detainees, it is possible to file motions for pretrial release using the outbreak of COVID-19 as justification to modify the conditions originally imposed by the court. There may also be relief available for those who are close to completing their sentences. For example, we have seen cases in which federal inmates who were in half-way houses obtained court orders converting their status to home confinement. These opportunities are certainly limited, but keep in mind that the situation is fluid and subject to change in the near future. If you have a vulnerable relative who is imprisoned, you should call your attorney and see what, if anything, can be done to

Brown Law: Witness Intimidation Bill Won’t Help

February 24, 2020
With the rash of violence currently plaguing Baltimore, Governor Hogan and Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby are advocating for a bill that will address what they see as one of the major issues facing the city: witness intimidation. We think this bill is a bad idea. During his State of the State address earlier this month, Governor Hogan promoted the “Witness Intimidation Protection Act,” and described it as a tool to fight back against those who intimidate and threaten witnesses. He promised harsher penalties in an attempt to intimidate the intimidators. In a recent press conference, in which he chastised the legislature for not doing enough to stem the bloodshed in Baltimore City, Governor Hogan referenced the lack of movement on his witness intimidation bill and officially designated it as “emergency legislation.” However, the bill isn’t the solution the city needs. The bill focuses on easing restrictions on the State’s use of hearsay evidence offered by witnesses who were purportedly intimidated. Hearsay is an out-of-court statement made by someone who is not testifying. It can only be introduced at trial in certain circumstances. In Maryland, there is an exception allowing hearsay only when the court finds by “clear and convincing evidence” that the person who the statement is offered against engaged in witness intimidation in felony drug crimes and crimes of violence. Under Governor Hogan’s proposed bill, the standard would be lessened to “preponderance of the evidence” and would be applicable to any criminal case, not just felony drug crimes and crimes of violence. The bill also would add harsher penalties for those that participate in witness intimidation resulting in serious physical injury or death. In reality, the bill isn’t as forceful – or necessary – as its advocates claim. There are already existing statutes that penalize witness intimidation and the penalties the new bill touts are already accessible to prosecutors in cases of serious physical injury or death. This bill is essentially recreating a law that already exists under a shiny new name. Adding these penalties and lessening the evidentiary standard won’t end witness intimidation. The bill fails to address the root issue, which is that people are fearful to come forward because they do not have faith in the systems that are meant to protect them. Taking away protections guaranteed to a defendant – such as protections against being convicted by unreliable hearsay – will not help, but instead will continue to plant seeds of mistrust against those who are meant to protect the community. We also question whether witness intimidation is as widespread as Governor Hogan wants the community to think. In 2019, only 12 people were found guilty of felony witness intimidation across the state of Maryland. Governor Hogan should focus on actual solutions to the violence in Baltimore City instead of promoting legislation that simply covers up political inaction. — Carolyn Schorr

Brown Law Files Post-Conviction for Innocent Man in Salisbury Murder

February 17, 2020
Brown Law today filed a post-conviction petition on behalf of Derrien Douglas, who for more than a decade has maintained his innocence. Douglas was convicted of murder in Wicomico County, Maryland, and is currently serving a life sentence at North Branch Correctional Institution. His conviction was deeply flawed, and he is now seeking a new trial. First, the judge forced Douglas to stand trial in jail clothes, despite the fact that his family had a suit and tie prepared for him. The trial judge claimed that there was not enough courtroom personnel available to allow Douglas to change clothes prior to his presentation to the jury. Thus, a man facing a life sentence stood trial in jail-issued pocketless pants and a white T-shirt. Once the jury was sworn, things got worse. The State had no forensic evidence supporting its theory. Rather, the State rested its case on the testimony of two supposed eyewitnesses – both of whom were incentivized to testify against Douglas. One eyewitness, Charles Moor, claimed to have seen the shooting from afar, but cell phone records seriously undermine his claim that he was at the scene at the time of the shooting. After Moor identified Douglas and testified against him at trial, the Salisbury police dropped charges against Moor for his role in a brutal barroom assault that sent his victim to the emergency room. The second eyewitness was at the scene of the shooting, but he now says police obtained his testimony by pressuring him and threatening him with drug charges. Specifically, police resuscitated old drug charges against the second witness and used them as leverage to induce his testimony. The police then told the witness that, if he followed through and testified for the State, the drug charges would be dropped. Indeed, three days after the witness testified – and Douglas was convicted – the charges were dismissed. This deal between the police and the second witness was never disclosed to the defense – a flagrant violation of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brady v. Maryland. Under Brady, the State has a duty to divulge to the defense any evidence that is exculpatory to the defendant. A violation of Brady is a ground for a new trial. Read Brown Law’s Petition for Post-Conviction Relief HERE.