The decision by the Maryland Court of Appeals giving criminal suspects a new guarantee that they be informed if a lawyer is seeking to represent them, falls short of requiring police to allow them to meet the lawyer, law enforcement officials said yesterday.
The long opinion, issued Tuesday by the state's highest court, ruled that Kenneth J. Lodowski's constitutional rights were denied when Prince George's County police refused to let his lawyer in while he was being questioned in a murder case. According to the decision, the evidence gathered during the questioning also was inadmissible.
The court ordered a new trial for Lodowski, who had been sentenced to death for the June 1983 robbery and murder of Carlton X. Fletcher, an off-duty police officer, and Minh Phamdo, a Greenbelt convenience store clerk.
Lodowski's roommate, Kamel Ali Elfadl, was also convicted of the same crimes and was given a life sentence. But in January, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals reversed Elfadl's conviction, also because police did not allow him to see a lawyer until he signed a confession.
Deborah Chasanow, chief of the criminal trials division of the Maryland attorney general's office, said yesterday that the Lodowski ruling means that "obviously, the police will have to notify the person when the lawyer shows up, or they will not be able to use statements" obtained during the questioning.
But, Chasanow said, the appeals court did not go as far as other states by saying that once a lawyer arrives on the scene, police may not question the defendant unless that person waives counsel in the presence of that lawyer.
Yesterday, State's Attorney Arthur A. Marshall said Elfadl was the first Maryland case reversed on grounds that police did not tell a suspect during questioning that a lawyer had come to meet with them. Perhaps, said Marshall, the new decision means "when someone knocks on the door, you have to stop" questioning.
It is unclear whether the latest decision will force Prince George's police to change their tactics or will have any bearing on cases under investigation. Col. Elmer Tippett, who oversees criminal investigations in Prince George's, said he could not comment on the impact of the decision because he had not read it.
The question of when a lawyer should be allowed to see a suspect was raised again last month when Jane Bolding, a former Prince George's General Hospital nurse, was questioned for more than 24 hours before she allegedly confessed to slaying one patient. Police said they informed Bolding that a lawyer had come to the police station to be with her but she declined to see him. However Bolding's lawyer, Fred R. Joseph said, "My client will testify that she was not told."
Joseph, who is also the legal director of the Prince George's chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said, "I'm sure that the Prince George's County police are going to take another careful look at their practices -- this is the second time they've been slapped in the face" by the higher courts.
Marshall said the new stance by the appellate courts may mean that when a lawyer arrives at the police station, officers may have to let them in. He said he will know for sure once he reads the opinion.