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Another Day, Another School Shooting, Another Killing

Tuesday, March 20th, 2018

assaultweapons (1)Days after the 17 minute school walk out in protest of gun violence and on the week of the Washington, DC March for Life on Saturday, March 24, another school shooting occurs.  This time, the shooting occurred at Great Mills High school in a small town in southern Maryland with the shooter, a teenage student, shooting a 16 year old girl and a 14 year old boy—all students.  They survived. The shooter died. Instead of an assault rifle, this time it was a Glock semiautomatic. Motive or target was yet undetermined.  So far, it was the 17th school shooting since January 1, 2018, according to CNN.


After hearing about the school shooting in St. Mary’s County, Maryland on Tuesday, March 20, I recalled the first time when  I appeared in a court case in St. Mary’s.  The court house is located in Leonardtown, MD which is a very small sleepy little town.  I am sure that nothing much in the way of crime happens in St. Mary’s. Nearby Leonardtown where the Circuit Court lies has a population of roughly 2,000. Great Mills is much larger with just over 8000 residents.  These towns in St. Mary’s are hardly metropolitan cities or even near a metropolitan city.  Once again, like Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High school, the area is one where a school shooting would likely appear to be out of the ordinary. Except in this day and time, no school is out of the ordinary for a shooting to occur.  The cycle of wash, rinse, repeat when it comes to gun violence continues in schools, churches, movies, malls and on neighborhood streets.  And the same cycle continues when it comes to actions taken by politicians to help stymie the gun violence in America.


As a former prosecutor, the story of guns, gun violence, shootings and death are not new news.  According to the American Bar Association, in 2013, there were over 11,200 murders with firearms. African Americans suffered 57% of all murders with firearms, even though blacks only make up 13% of the U.S. population. In contrast with other countries, in 2010, there were 17 firearm deaths in Finland; 35 in Australia, 39 in England and Wales; 60 in Spain, 194 in Germany and 200 in Canada.

We know the problem.  We also know some of the solutions.  We just lack the ability to combine gun problem with solution in a meaningful way.  There is no one solution size fits all when it comes to different types of gun violence.  One thing is for sure, more guns are not the answer.  Ditto for arming teachers.


Besides banning assault weapons, large capacity ammunition magazines, increasing age to purchase a firearm to age 21, denial of gun purchases due to serious mental health issues and domestic violence orders, tightening gun permit laws on  three day wait at gun shows, restricting guns at sensitive places including colleges, churches, county owned property, we need to restrict sales of guns by private individuals.

We should also look to those other countries who have so few murders, albeit they don’t have the NRA and the second amendment to contend with.   In 1996, both Britain and Australia had mass shootings.  In 1996, a lone shooter entered a school in Scotland and killed 16 -five and six-year-old children plus a teacher.  And in the same year in Australia, a man killed 35 people in a mass shooting at a cafe.  Both Britain and Australia had a major crackdown on gun laws and passed sensible gun laws.  Our legislators haven’t reached the boiling point where they will enact gun laws to save lives.

What appears different and just may work now is the pressure being exerted by the voices of young persons who have experienced gun violence all their lives.  And those voices are not limited to school gun violence but to gun violence in the urban cities and in places like St. Mary’s County.  No place is immune to gun violence.  No one is safe.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial attorney, legal analyst and former prosecutor who is frequently seen in the media addressing gun laws and crimes.

Trump Travel Ban 2.0 is Dead on Arrival

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

UnionRallyGroupOn Monday, March 6, Donald Trump signed another executive travel ban.  Instead of pursuing a likely dead end in lengthy litigation on the first ban which affected seven primarily Muslim countries— and also banned those person holding visas and green cards, the Trump Administration decided to start anew.  The second round ban exempted Iraq—still including the same six other Muslim countries. It further made provisions for those with Green cards and visas to be exempted.   However, not much else changed in the real sense of showing a need for a travel ban to Muslim countries.


And before the ban took effect, it was shut down by federal courts in Hawaii and Maryland.  Nothing had really changed from the first ban. The first one was shut down in federal court in the State of Washington placing a hold on the ban.  One day after announcing the new travel ban, Hawaii wasted no time at all in filing a lawsuit in federal court in Hawaii—much like the earlier one filed in the State of Washington last month.



I give the Trump Administration an “A” on persistence and a “F” on execution.  The most recent travel ban met the similar fate as the first one for the very same reasons.  The earlier ban met its fate as the Trump administration and Justice Department failed to articulate any real security concerns for a travel ban to seven Muslim countries.


Removing Iraq from the list was done at the request of apparently the State Department due to its Iraqi translators.   And the travel ban’s exemption of Green cards and visas still does not address if there is any real security reason or threat for a Muslim country travel ban.  The Administration failed to be able to effectively address those security concerns last month.  And courts work on evidence and not campaign promises.


These federal courts wasted no time in showing the Trump administration how the three branches of government work.  Both courts recognized the ban was solely against Muslims and therefore violated our constitution.  The judiciary branch shut down the ban as unconstitutional.  And the executive branch of government, a la Mr. Trump, has no alternative but to either further appeal its case in court or attempt yet another travel ban.


Mr. Trump is learning a lesson that many litigants learn once in court.  One’s prior words can be used against you in both civil and criminal court. And Mr. Trump’s prior tweets, speeches and words on needing a ban to expel Muslims from our country and prevent Muslims from entering was the reason for the ban.  In one press release issued during the campaign, Trump called for a complete and total shutdown of Muslims.  His own words caused his defeat. There is no national need for security concerns.


An unlawful travel ban by any other words is still unlawful.   Mr. Trump’s actions are unconstitutional, against the first amendment on freedom of religion and quite frankly, un- American.  If he wants to make America great again, which many persons seriously doubt, he can start by upholding the US Constitutional in his executive orders.

Freedom of religion is what democracy  and America looks like.  Mr. Trump has yet to learn this civics lesson.


DebbieFox5DC2017Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, member of the Supreme Court bar, legal analyst and former Baltimore prosecutor.  She is often seen in the media addressing legal  and political issues.

Why No Charges Filed In MD Firefighter Killed by Homeowner?

Sunday, April 17th, 2016

GunOne Maryland firefighter was shot and killed and another one seriously injured after knocking on the resident’s door responding to a check for the person’s welfare.  No charges are filed at this time.  And social media is weighing in on both sides of the argument –to file charges and those wondering why firefighters responded in the first instance and attempted to bust in the door.  And as a former Maryland prosecutor, I wonder why no charges were filed by Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks.  And charges might still be filed at a later time.


On Friday, April 15, Prince Georges County firefighters responded to a home for a well person check, following a call by the brother of the resident-to check on his state of health.  Firefighters respond as first responders in these types of cases which may need paramedic/medical assistance.  Upon arriving at the home, presumably with the customary siren sound on and flashing lights on upon arrival, the firefighters announced themselves and received no response from knocking on the door.  They were met with no response except gun shots which killed firefighter John Ulmschneider and seriously injured the second firefighter on the scene.  The family member who made the call for welfare check was also injured.


As with all cases, everything is not known in the media.  The mental state of the resident is not known or what additional facts revealed in the investigation only known to investigators and prosecutors. From the information as revealed, it is questionable as to why some charges were not filed—at a minimum for involuntary manslaughter. Involuntary manslaughter in Maryland means an unintentional/ accidental killing occurred –due to criminally reckless  or criminally negligent behavior.


In Maryland a homeowner or resident has a right to protect himself inside his or her home in order to defend against deadly harm.   Yet, the defense of the castle doctrine or a modified castle doctrine is not an absolute defense. In a very similar case occurring in a Detroit, Michigan suburb, the result was the opposite.  Homeowner, Theodore Wafer, initially told police that he shot nineteen year old Renisha McBride as she stood on his porch banging on the door, seeking help following a car accident. Wafer had testified that he feared for his life as a group of thugs might be breaking into his home, in his changing suburban neighborhood.


Wafer, like the person who shot the Maryland firefighters, shot through a closed door upon hearing banging. Wafer is currently serving a sentence of 17 to 32 years after being found guilty  on August 7, 2014 of second degree murder, manslaughter and discharging a firearm in the commission of a felony.  The facts between the case of Renisha McBride and the Maryland firefighter are similar.


The differences between the two cases lie in the fact that first responders arrived to the home. In many jurisdictions, where the safety of a person is concerned, firefighters who are also trained as paramedics arrive first on the scene.  And they do not usually arrive quietly. I have known fire trucks to arrive with siren and lights on, upon arrival at a location when a call is made for an ambulance. According to the Prince George’s Firefighters’ Association, the firefighters announced themselves, checked for windows and banged on the door -getting no response.  Then they proceeded to attempt entry into the home.   All of this is acceptable protocol. In the act of trying to assist someone, one firefighter was shot and killed; another one is in serious condition.


Police do not generally in many jurisdictions proceed to homes for check of a resident’s well-being.  And firefighters do not need a warrant to attempt entry based on the concerned facts received from the family member-who was also present with the firefighters. Many persons dispute whether firefighters should attempt to bust in the door in these situations. No warrant is needed. This is not the case where sheriffs or police arrive to serve a warrant.  Firefighters were present solely for assistance of possible medical attention.

I have on occasion felt heath concerns for a close family member while living out of town.  And if I was not able to ascertain their whereabouts or have someone to check, I would not have hesitated to make a call to authorities to check on their welfare–even knowing that their door might be broken in.  It is a means to save people’s lives.


State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks needs to further review the facts.  If the intentions are not to file charges, then she should respond to the public’s cry for concerns—on both sides of the argument.  It is the right thing to do.

UPDATE: DC’s WUSA -9 reports the homeowner felt his home was being invaded.


Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal analyst and former Baltimore prosecutor. She is frequently seen on air on Al Jazeera, BET, CBS, CCTV, Fox 5 DC, PBS, NPR, MSNBC and TV One among others.  Her Op Ed’s have appeared in the Washington Post, Baltimore Sun and Baltimore Afro American.

A Lesson for Hillary Clinton from Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown’s Loss

Monday, November 10th, 2014

HillaryClinton Hillary_ClintonDespite the fact that Maryland has a 2-1 edge of Democrats over Republicans, Democrat nominee for Governor Anthony Brown managed to lose the election to Republican Larry Hogan, who was virtually unknown when he won last week.  And in the wake of Maryland’s gubernatorial election, there are lessons for Hillary Clinton, the hands on unannounced favorite Democratic 2016 Presidential candidate. Being a frontrunner can be a blessing and a curse, as Maryland’s Anthony Brown discovered.


While many Democrats shunned the President to campaign for them, Anthony Brown did not shy away from the star power of many Democrat politicians including President Obama, Bill Clinton, Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton who came to rallies in support of Brown. No amount of star power from other politicians could save the shellacking that Brown received at the hands of Hogan.  Brown lost by over 9 percentage points in a heavy Democrat state.   Brown did not lose because he aligned himself with party Democrats and President Obama.  He lost because he broke many unspoken rules as a candidate.


Brown was so busy being the front runner that he forgot that he had to campaign for the job.  He was not going to be anointed or appointed to the position of Governor.   As soon as the primary ended in June, 2014, Brown acted as if the general election win were a fete accomplished. As a frontrunner, Brown ran a lackluster campaign.  And he was too often trying to avoid any mishaps that he took many things for granted.  Campaigning is like a contact sport  that requires often taking risks.


The rule in politics and in life is to never take people for granted.  Brown presumably assumed that the large numbers of Democrats in the three major areas of Baltimore City and the DC suburbs of Prince George’s County (Brown’s home base) and Montgomery County would magically appear and vote for him without much campaigning.  The results revealed that many Maryland voters in 2014, like many in the country, stayed home.  Many voters may have felt they had no reason to vote. And Brown failed to give them a reason.  Campaigning is  also a team sport and Brown did not strongly engage the team—the voters.


Brown never strayed away from the message points of his predecessor, Governor Martin O’Malley, a potential 2016 presidential candidate.  Brown failed to explain how he would improve people’s lives.  And he did a poor job of explaining what he would do as Governor, instead of merely attacking Hogan as a Republican.  He failed to explain what he stood for on issues and why he deserved to be Governor—albeit after botching the MD health care exchange site.   And being the Lt. Governor alone was not a good enough reason to vote for him, as Brown apparently thought.


Messaging is a key factor in any political race.  And the Brown campaign failed to get a message that was clear and concise.  Quoting party lines and   party message points is not the same as having a message that resonates with voters.  Telling stories is one way that voters understand what’s at stake for them in their personal lives and why their vote counts.   Hogan repeatedly told stories through his ads while many of Brown’s ads attacked Hogan.


Brown has a similar style in some respects to Hilary Clinton.  To say he fails to show and express emotions would be an understatement. Voters need to see the human and emotional side of candidates.    Surprisingly, the concession speech that Brown gave showed an emotional, personal side of him with reasons why he entered public service that never revealed itself during the campaign.


While Brown did not distance himself from President Obama, he failed to learn anything from the two campaigns that President Obama ran to successfully win two terms as President.  While Hillary Clinton may decide to distance herself from President Obama, she also needs to learn how President Obama did the seemingly impossible—as the first African American President who also won re-election. President Obama knew how to campaign and win two terms in areas where blacks, women and minorities are not always high on the list of priorities. Maryland’s new Republican Governor Elect, Larry Hogan campaigned in all areas of Maryland including urban Baltimore City.  Hogan didn’t take anything or anyone for granted.    And neither should Hillary Clinton should she decide to run.  Hillary Clinton could learn from Brown by not repeating his mistakes.