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Rene Went To Law School Tony Went To Jail
Friends in School, Their Lives Took Very Different Directions. Then They Met Again.
Comments () | Published August 1, 2004

In one of her first weeks back at work after a year's leave to take care of her newborn twins, Rene Sandler drove to the new Montgomery County jail to interview a client accused of rape.

Handling a rape case right after a maternity leave was not Sandler's idea of a smooth transition back to her criminal-law practice. She had asked Steve Mercer, her partner in law and life, for something else.

"Give me a murder or a carjacking," she said. "I would prefer a dead body."

She pulled her white Lincoln Navigator up to the Montgomery County Correctional Facility on I-270. She opened the door, took a deep breath, and started walking toward the jail. Faces of the inmates she represented came rushing back: Peter Reiger, charged with killing his mother; Terrence Green, awaiting trial for shooting a cop; Carl Jones, up for kidnapping and carjacking.

"Am I ready for this?" she wondered. She checked her Rolex.

The rape case had come in to the firm in the fall. Sandler, a rising star among criminal-defense attorneys in Maryland, had taken it on because the facts were interesting and the implications groundbreaking. The defendant had been charged on the basis of a DNA sample he had been forced to provide while in jail on another charge. The case raised a question that might go all the way to the Supreme Court: Does the government have the right to take someone's DNA for law-enforcement purposes without the "probable cause" required by the Fourth Amendment?

Another question nagged Rene Sandler that morning. The client's name was Charles Raines. She had gone to school with a kid named Raines.

Sandler entered the jail, exchanged her car keys for a visitor's badge, and walked down the dark corridor of interview rooms. She chose a cubicle, put her notepad on the steel counter, took her seat, and watched Raines approach.

She saw a light-skinned African-American with soft features. His large frame filled the standard forest-green jumpsuit. His face was a bit pudgy but familiar. His cornrows were flecked with gray. The guard took off Raines's handcuffs.

When Raines looked up, he saw a slim woman who wears her jet-black hair short with a trademark flip over her forehead. Her glasses gave her a bookish look, but the black eyeliner added a slightly menacing touch.

Their eyes met. She smiled and picked up the phone.

"Are you Tony Raines?" she asked. The Tony Raines she knew from junior high as a star basketball player?

"Little Rene?" he asked. The girl who played shooting guard against boys twice her size?

They hadn't seen each other in 26 years, but soon they were back at Francis Scott Key Junior High in Silver Spring.

"How's your brother?" Raines asked. "Whatever happened to your friend Steve Ruben?"

Sandler asked, "Are you still in touch with your girlfriend, Carol?"

Raines explained that he had gone by "Tony," his stepfather's name, in school, but the legal system knew him as Charles. Other than that, he was the same guy who had protected Rene (pronounced Reenie) Sandler in the schoolyard. Sandler told him she had become a lawyer and had three toddlers at home. But she was still the tough kid he'd known on the courts.

"Geez," Raines said, "our lives sure took different paths."

CHARLES RAINES, 41, is what the government calls a career criminal. He was first arrested and locked up in his teens and has been in and out of jails ever since. He's been married twice, has children and grandchildren. He's been behind bars 17 of the last 22 years. Yet in many ways, he's a model prisoner.

Rene Sandler's specialty is defending people accused of violent crimes. When Raines was stealing cars, she was helping her neighbor, Ida G. Ruben, get elected to the state senate. When Raines was accumulating probation violations, she was getting advanced degrees. She and Steve Mercer have been living and working together for about a decade. They derive most of their income from representing business clients; they get their legal thrills representing criminals for little or nothing.

But Raines and Sandler are similar in some ways. Both were told they were not smart enough to succeed at challenging careers. Both studied law and practice it now--Charles Raines is a veteran jailhouse lawyer. And they are still competitors. The word most used to describe Sandler in the courthouse is "relentless."

Says Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas Gansler, "When you see Rene Sandler on the other side, you know you're in for a long legal struggle. She knows every trick in the book and uses it."

Raines's persistence in filing legal briefs for himself and other inmates is legendary. It was Raines who helped make the DNA central to his defense in the rape case.

SANDLER AND RAINES BECAME friends while competing on basketball courts; now they are together in courts of law that will decide a landmark DNA case.

In June, Sandler and Steve Mercer argued Maryland v. Raines before Maryland's highest court.

The government argues that taking DNA from convicted felons and keeping it in a data bank will assist in future law enforcement. Sandler and Mercer--supported by public defenders and the ACLU--argue that taking the DNA without any suspicion of criminal wrongdoing is an invasion of privacy, and banking the genetic blueprint leaves open the prospect that it could be shared with other government agencies or used for other purposes.

"Who's next?" Sandler asks. "Immigrants? Developmentally disabled? Any disfavored group? It's a slippery slope to requiring all Americans to submit DNA for national ID cards. That's why this case is of interest to the entire country."

Raines started fighting the legal case as soon as he was forced to submit his DNA. His protests went nowhere.

"I was losing faith in the system," he says. "But when I saw Rene in that interview room and realized she was on my side, I knew I was going to be all right."

Tony Raines saw his first dead body when he was six. One summer day in 1969, he and a friend were playing in the alley behind his grandmother's apartment on Delaware Avenue in Southwest DC. It was a year after the riots. The neighborhood was home to hippies and Black Panthers and lots of kids on the loose.

At first the two boys thought the man was asleep in an abandoned garage. Then they saw that he wasn't breathing.

"Touch him," Raines said. "He's dead."

"No way," his buddy said.

Raines nudged the body with his shoe, and they ran yelling down the alley.

Raines was raised with three younger sisters by his mother and grandmother. He was often the only male. His mother was a clerk for the federal government. Raines didn't meet his biological father until he was 13. His stepfather, Tony, spent little time with him. As he approached his teens he asked himself, "Who am I supposed to be?"

The answer started to become clear one day when his little sister was molested by a maintenance worker in the basement of their apartment building. An older boy pulled him aside and said, "If you were bad, that wouldn't have happened."

Raines got the message: If he had been known as someone to be feared, his sister would not have become prey. At age 11, Tony Raines began to fashion himself as the enforcer. His mantra: "I've got to be bad to protect my mother and my sisters."

The family moved to Quebec Terrace in Montgomery County in 1974. The neighborhood off Piney Branch Road was rough. Raines was growing bigger and stronger than his friends. By age 12, he was nearly six feet tall and quick with his feet and fists.

One night the summer after he finished elementary school, he and some friends were watching a basketball game on the Quebec Street court facing Piney Branch, lit by a single streetlight. They were drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. They heard screams from across the street. It sounded like one of his sisters.

Raines ran across Piney Branch and followed the screams to a hillside between two apartment buildings. He saw a man pinning a girl to the ground. It was Felicia, his younger sister. Raines says he yanked the man off and beat him unconscious.

There was no need to call the police or file a report on the attacker. Word was getting around the neighborhood that Tony Raines could administer his own justice.

"I felt great," he says. "I had to be the man--mission accomplished."

RENE SANDLER HAD OTHER GOALS growing up in Silver Spring: She wanted to get good grades, practice the guitar, and win trophies for the swim team.

The neighborhoods of White Oak and Hillandale in the 1960s and '70s were home to middle-class, two-parent families, many of them Jewish, almost all white. Kids were free to roam by bike or foot. Sandler walked to and from elementary school and the community pool.

Her father, Gene, was a businessman; her mother, Natalie, worked at home taking care of her and her younger brother, Mark. They were part of an extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins whose lives revolved around religious holidays and their synagogue, Ohr Kodesh.

Sandler took after her mother's father. He played the saxophone and point guard for a semipro basketball team in Baltimore. She played guitar and wrote music so well by age 12 that she started the first of many bands. She was fearless on the softball diamond and the basketball court.

The Ruben family down the street was part of her extended family. Ida Ruben would become her political mentor; Judge L. Leonard Ruben introduced her to the world of law.

On the days when school was out but court was in session, Judge Ruben would take his kids and Rene Sandler up to District Court in Rockville. It was Rene's first experience seeing cops lead around men and boys in handcuffs. She didn't hunger to be a lawyer. But as she watched the parade of the accused, she had a constant thought: "I never want to get in trouble."

INTHE MID-1970s Montgomery County was busing students to integrate the schools. Tony Raines was supposed to go to Takoma Park Middle School, near Quebec Terrace; instead he was bused across town to Francis Scott Key Junior High--two houses away from Rene Sandler's.

"Why are they sending me to this place?" Raines wondered. The new school was bigger, cleaner, and better organized. He wore his Takoma Park sweatshirt the first few days, but he didn't have to brand himself. His reputation preceded him.

At the end of the first week a boy approached him and said, "I'm going to beat your ass on Monday."

The fight was scheduled for after school on the basketball court. People talked about it all day. The two squared off in the middle of the court. Raines landed a few punches and grabbed the boy around the middle to throw him to the ground. He felt something hard at the boy's waist.

"Wait a minute," he said. What he felt turned out to be a handgun. He let the boy loose, called off the fight, and walked away. No shots were fired then or ever at Key.

By ending the fight, Tony Raines had won it, and his reputation grew. He fought often. He never lost. In that seventh-grade year, Raines walked the halls with a slow strut, and students parted to let him pass. It wasn't a racial thing. He never felt any tension with the white kids--unless they tried to jump him.

"People were people," Raines says. "One of my best friends was a white guy. Race wasn't a problem for me."

Itwas a problem for Rene Sandler. Entering Key Junior High was the first major upset of her life. "I was scared to death," she says.

Though the school was two doors from her house, it was huge in comparison with her elementary school. She got lost in the halls; she was intimidated by the big strangers from across town.

"We felt that kids being bused in didn't want to be there," she says. "We didn't know the political climate of the time, but we knew it didn't feel right."

At first Sandler was able to take her tensions out on the basketball court, playing with the boys who were bused in. She earned their respect with her ball-handling skills and outside shot. She bonded with the toughest of the crew: Tony Raines.

"He was bigger than the rest--good looking and athletic," she says. "He was someone you wanted to be around."

They became friends.

"He was not who worried me," she says. "The black girls scared the shit out of me."

One in particular. Her name was Carol. The first week of school she jumped Sandler as she was coming off the basketball court. Teachers had to pull them apart.

"You f---in' bitch," Carol said. "Who do you think you are?"

Sandler had never heard the words before. It was the start of weeks of harassment in the halls and the lunchroom. Carol and her friends would push Sandler around. She complained to teachers. Her mother went to the principal. Nothing helped. Sandler started going home for lunch. She quit playing ball after school. She stayed home for a week.

Tony Raines wondered what had happened to his friend. He asked around and found that some black girls had been threatening her. He knew Carol.

"Leave Rene alone," he told her. "She's cool with me, but she's not my girlfriend."

One word from Raines was enough. When Rene came back to school, Carol apologized.

But no one could protect Tony Raines from temptations and his temper. His friends from Quebec Terrace tempted him to cut school and bicycle with them to Langley Park. He went to class less and less.

His girlfriend tempted him to make out one day during basketball practice. He did. The coach caught him and threw him off the team.

He made it to the spring track season and had another chance to shine. He sprinted the last leg of the 440 relay; he was a high jumper. The coach saw potential.

After winning his relay at one meet, Raines was cooling off around the infield. He saw a shot-putter from another school pushing around a small runner from Key. The shot-putter was white; his teammate was black. Raines walked over.

"Pick on someone your own size," Raines said.

"How about you?" the shot-putter said.

Raines hit the shot-putter and sent him to the ground bleeding.

The next day the track coach called Raines into his office and kicked him off the team. The principal hauled him into his office. Next thing Raines knew, a school guidance counselor was driving him home. He was not allowed to return.

Says Sandler: "We never knew what happened to him. Word was he got in trouble. He just disappeared."

RENE SANDLER WENT ON to Springbrook High, where she struggled. She didn't make the varsity basketball team. She put her energy into her music.

She started a band in which she played rhythm guitar and keyboard. Jam sessions in her house prepared the band for gigs at community centers and pool parties.

The high point of those years was a tenth-grade class about law and government. At the end of the class the teacher held a mock trial. She divided the class into teams. Rene Sandler played a prosecutor. Her friends told her it fit her "tough personality." It also fulfilled her need to pick sides and compete.

Sandler landed a part-time job as a clerk for a law firm. She began to contemplate becoming a lawyer.

Her school guidance counselor had different ideas. She watched Sandler in class, weighed her test scores, and told her, "You should choose something less challenging than law."

TONY RAINES LASTED ABOUT a day at Dunbar Senior High School in DC. Though he tested high for intelligence, he wasted his smarts on the street.

At 15, he was arrested for stealing a car. As in most cases, he can explain: A friend loaned him the vehicle; Raines didn't know it was hot. The police busted him, and he was placed in Cedar Knoll, DC's youth-detention center. He escaped but turned himself in. He was freed on probation. He then beat up the friend who loaned him the car without telling him it was stolen.

Hoping to keep him out of trouble, his mother, then a clerk at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, sent him to visit relatives in South Carolina. In less than a month he was back in DC stealing cars.

Raines was living in the basement of his mother's house in 1981 when she told him she was in trouble. She was $7,000 in debt and feared the family would be evicted. Raines decided he would not let that happen.

Up till then, his criminal activities had not officially been violent. But he knew two friends who had held up drug dealers for wads of cash. One night Raines stole a car. He and his friends followed a dealer from a club in DC to his home in Gaithersburg. They brandished handguns and robbed him of $20,000. Raines drove them back to DC. He gave his mother his share: $6,000.

A few weeks later he was arrested and taken to court in Rockville. He was convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to 20 years. But first, the Maryland court sent him to DC, where he was ordered to serve six years for violating probation on an earlier stolen-car arrest.

It was September 1982. He was 19.

Rene Sandler was seeing probation from the other side. She graduated from high school and began studying criminology at the University of Maryland in 1981. In her second year she got an internship with Cheryl Fisher Merrifield, a probation officer in DC.

During her first week on the job, a heroin addict came into the office to explain why he'd failed to go to rehab. He pleaded to stay out of jail. He went into convulsions in the office and had to be resuscitated by paramedics. Next came a prostitute who had 15 kids but didn't know where they were. All these were part of a parade of junkies and petty criminals. Everyone begged for another chance.

Sandler had grown up in a household that reached out to the less fortunate. She and her family would go to nursing homes and sing for the old folks. But this was her first look at real poverty.

"I had to learn how people exist on the streets," she says. "I had to learn a different language. They were sad and pathetic. They needed lawyers."

Merrifield was a slight but tough officer. In court, with Sandler in tow, she argued to send most probation violators to jail.

Given that first taste of criminal court, Sandler continued taking courses in criminology and graduated from college in 1985.

"I wanted to be in the legal system," she says, "but I didn't know how."

TONY RAINES WAS SHUTTLING between DC's Lorton and jails in Maryland. The two jurisdictions were trying to figure out where he should serve time.

On one trip to Maryland, Raines was in a jail cell waiting for a hearing. The guards came in and said, "You are free to go."

Raines didn't argue. Someone had made a mistake: Raines had fallen through a crack in the Maryland judicial system, served his time in DC, and walked out of jail a free man in 1984.

For two years he tried to go straight. He had gotten a high-school diploma in Lorton and now started to take college courses at the University of the District of Columbia. He married. He started working. But he gradually returned to the street life of taking and dealing drugs. In 1986 he was arrested in Maryland for attempted burglary.

Montgomery County Assistant State's Attorney Robert L. Dean was in court the day Raines was arraigned. Dean recognized Raines, recalled the armed-robbery conviction, and got the court to reinstate the sentence. Raines got 12 years for attempted burglary added to the old 20. He was looking at 32 years in jail.

Raines had gotten a second chance and squandered it.

"You're better off in jail," his mother said. "It's safer." Many of Raines's friends had died from gunfights or overdoses.

During the next 18 years, Raines blew every opportunity for freedom: He would serve enough time to earn release on parole. He would start off well, going to school, starting a business. Then he would violate parole and go back to jail.

But Raines's mother was right: Her son not only would survive behind bars; he would blossom.

After the probation job in DC, Rene Sandler got a master's degree in justice at American University. At the same time she was working in Annapolis as chief legislative aide to her neighbor, state senator Ida Ruben.

Two years later she and a friend started a business silk-screening T-shirts. When they sold it in 1990, Sandler made enough profit to pay for more education. She entered the University of the District of Columbia School of Law.

Sandler, then 29, had been accepted at several law schools. She chose UDC because it welcomed older students and had a clinical focus that would get her into court almost immediately.

When she was in her second year, a liquored-up attorney ran a stop sign on MacArthur Boulevard and drove his car into her Jeep Cherokee. Sandler suffered a broken neck. The lawyer pleaded guilty to drunk driving. Sandler endured surgeries and years in a neck brace.

Studying in pain, she came close to quitting law school. Instead she wore a collar, graduated magna cum laude, and started her lawyering career in Rockville. She interned for Judge J. James McKenna and clerked for Judge S. Michael Pincus, who would play a crucial role in the Raines case.

Finally, in 1995, Sandler became a prosecutor for the Montgomery County State's Attorney's office. She argued dozens of jury trials--arson, rape, drunk driving, attempted murder.

"I was in court all the time," she says. "I loved to argue and fight--and win."

But she was still in pain. Her neck and back had not healed well. She and her family finally found one surgeon who said he could fix her. They flew to Phoenix for the surgery. Recovery took months, but finally she was free of pain. She went back to the courtroom.

"I hated drunk drivers," she says.

Tony Raines began his legal education as soon as he landed behind bars in 1982. At Lorton, Georgetown University Law Center held street-law clinics for inmates. For Raines it was Jail House Lawyer 101. He took notes, read pamphlets, organized study groups. Then a counselor gave him an intelligence test and told him he had a sixth-grade learning level.

"Made me furious," he says. "I knew better. That motivated me to prove her wrong."

Back in jail in 1986 at Seven Locks Correctional Facility, Raines took criminal-justice courses offered by Montgomery College. He read Richard Wright's Native Son. He took Toastmasters courses and learned how to speak in public and represent himself in court.

Montgomery Circuit Court Judge J. James McKenna came to lecture the inmates. Raines attended every class. (A few years later, Rene Sandler would serve her internship with McKenna.)

Raines was also motivated by the belief that he did not deserve to be in jail. He rationalized every offense. He also added up his sentences and started to build a case that his consecutive sentences should have been concurrent and that he had not been given credit for years already served. He studied the Sacco and Vanzetti case and began to frame a defense based on their fraudulent jailing.

"I loved it," he says. "I learned from it."

In the mid-1980s Raines requested and won a move to the correctional facility in Patuxent, which specialized in rehabilitation. He went to its law library every day. Other inmates read novels; Raines read Maryland Rules of Procedure, self-help litigation manuals, the Maryland and US constitutions, all 200 pages of the Dred Scott decision.

In Patuxent he met his first mentor, a veteran jailhouse lawyer who shared his last name but was no relation. "You were railroaded," Paul Raines told Tony Raines.

The older Raines instructed the younger in how to use the jail's computers to do legal research, how to write a brief, how to file motions, how to get information from the corrections bureaucracy.

In 1987 Raines filed his first legal action--to appeal his conviction. It was denied. A year later, he filed for postconviction relief. Denied. He filed for a rehearing. Denied. But in 1990, when word spread that Maryland had issued a new ruling on consecutive sentences, Raines moved to reduce his sentence. He succeeded.

He was elected to the Inmate Advisory Council, which put him in regular contact with the Legal Aid Bureau.

Raines's reputation growing up was as the kid who enforced the law with his fists; now he became known as the man to see for legal help. He filed dozens of motions a year, many of them successful. Inmates paid him in cash and cigarettes.

AFTER TWO YEARS AS A PROSECUTOR, Rene Sandler went into private practice in 1996. She started in a Baltimore law firm handling insurance cases but found it unsatisfying. A year later she and Stephen Mercer, a classmate at UDC law school, opened a practice in Rockville. They would soon move in together and start a family.

Sandler and Mercer built a profitable practice representing telecommunications companies. They branched into personal-injury law and business litigation.

"All the while we built our criminal practice," says Sandler.

The criminal-defense bar in Montgomery County was dominated for years by "old-school lawyers" who represented wealthy and high-profile clients. Rene Sandler gravitated toward hard-core criminals.

"I enjoyed it as a prosecutor," she says. "I wanted to do it from the other side."

Says Doug Gansler, "Rene represents the next generation of criminal-defense lawyers. She goes to the mat on every issue."

She and Mercer were driven in part by their education in public-interest law at UDC. But there was more.

"We love the challenge and the fight of working for the underdog," she says. "It makes our adrenaline rush."

Her parents often ask her how she can represent criminals like Carl Jones, who was charged with carjacking and kidnapping two infants in the back seat, taking them on a high-speed chase through three counties. Sandler surprised the legal community by beating the kidnapping charge with a hung jury.

"I can sleep at night when I know I have worked as hard as I can for my client," she says. "In this game, life and death are at stake. You can never lose focus or your opponent will seize on it. When I'm alone, I look at my three kids and fear for myself and for them at times. We represent some people accused of awful crimes."

Sandler's four-year-old daughter, Camryn, greeted her after Carl Jones's mistrial on the kidnapping charges.

"I saw you on TV, Mommy," she said. "Did you win?"

She and Mercer and the kids had a late dinner. They read Goodnight Moon--and slept quite well.

InNovember 1999, Tony Raines was in the Southern Maryland Pre-Release unit preparing to leave jail on another parole.

"Raines to the office," came over the loudspeaker.

In the office he found two corrections officials and a state police officer. They told him he had to submit to a swab of his inner cheek to provide saliva for a DNA bank.

"I don't want to do this," Raines said. "I think it's illegal." He says he protested "on principle" rather than because he was concerned about his DNA being tied to a crime.

Most states and the federal government have passed laws requiring people convicted of certain crimes to submit blood or saliva for DNA testing. Maryland passed a DNA requirement in 1994 for violent sex offenders and expanded the law in 1999 to apply to all persons convicted of crimes of violence.

Raines told the corrections officer that day that requiring him to submit his DNA without good reason was a violation of his rights. He asked for a lawyer. According to Raines, the officials said he would lose his work-release status and his good-conduct time if he refused. He would not get out on parole. He would be confined to medium security.

"We're going to get it one way or another," one officer said.

Raines let the state police officer swab his cheek. The sample was analyzed and the DNA placed in the state's crime laboratory. Raines filed a grievance.

Raines left the jail but violated his parole again and was behind bars in February 2003 when he was called in for a second DNA swab.

Raines's first DNA sample was found to match DNA in a 1996 rape case. The second swab matched it again, and Raines was charged with the rape.

According to the charging documents, a young woman told police she was attacked near Wheaton Plaza at about midnight on July 14, 1996. She said she was grabbed from behind and choked unconscious and woke up to find she was being sexually assaulted. The victim could barely describe her attacker. She was picked up by a motorist on Veirs Mill Road and taken to a Montgomery County police station in Silver Spring and then to Shady Grove Adventist Hospital for an examination. The DNA collected at the hospital matched the samples from Raines.

Raines has pleaded not guilty.

Raines researched every case having to do with DNA. He pored over the regulations.

"Taking my DNA was capricious and arbitrary," he says. "It violated my constitutional protections under the Fourth Amendment."

RENE SANDLER WAS ON MATERNITY leave when Steve Mercer took the Raines case. It came to the firm by way of the Maryland public defender's office. Sandler and Mercer are at the top of a panel of attorneys who take pro bono criminal cases. The Raines case fit their profile: difficult case against long odds. Mercer saw the potential to argue the case on constitutional grounds.

If Sandler is the bulldog litigator, Mercer is the steadfast legal researcher who can build air-tight briefs--and argue them before the highest courts.

That Mercer and Sandler took the Raines case sent ripples through the criminal-defense establishment in Maryland and California, where a similar case was in the courts. The buzz was that Mercer and Sandler were dogged enough to take the case to the Supreme Court.

But Tony Raines was dogging the case in the jail law library. Raines was the one who alerted Mercer to a case that became the foundation of their constitutional argument. Based on that case, they moved to suppress the DNA evidence on the grounds that its collection violated Raines's constitutional right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.

The judge agreed and granted the motion. The judge was S. Michael Pincus, for whom Sandler had clerked after law school.

The Maryland Attorney General appealed to the state's highest court.

AT10 AM ON JUNE 7, seven justices in red robes sat high on the bench of Maryland's Court of Appeals in Annapolis to hear Maryland v. Raines. The Court of Appeals is Maryland's highest court. The next venue is the US Supreme Court.

Tony Raines began the day by fasting; he has been a Muslim since age 20 and is known in jail as Dawud. He spent the rest of the day reading in the law library at the Clarksburg jail. Defendants in appeals cases are not permitted in the court.

Rene Sandler started the day going over the argument with Mercer and William McLain, their law professor at UDC.

"I found myself thinking about Tony," she said, "wondering if a person in his shoes knows how many people are participating on his behalf. Dozens and dozens of people helped us prepare for this case.

"Tony Raines from Key Junior High is in the position to change the Fourth Amendment for the whole country," she said.

Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., Maryland's top law-enforcement official, stood first to present the state's case. He explained the crime-fighting value of the state's DNA laws and stressed that similar laws had been adopted and upheld in almost every state.

The judges immediately went to the heart of the case.

Do convicted offenders have "no expectation of privacy?" asked one.

Did Raines object to the DNA swab?

"Yes," Curran answered.

Curran argued that DNA, like fingerprints, is an important tool to identify criminals.

"Unlike fingerprints," said a judge, "DNA carries lots of genetic material in there. We don't even know how much." He wanted to know how DNA samples would be protected.

Mercer rose from the appellate's table, where Sandler also sat. She timed his argument by the minute.

Mercer went right to the Constitution. He and the judges sparred for 45 minutes.

"There are no fingerprint dragnets," Mercer said. "Why should there be DNA dragnets?"

Mercer built his argument to a moment of silence. He looked at the seven robed judges. Who will be asked next to submit DNA?

"Kids going to school?" he asked. "Judges?"

Nine days later Tony Raines and Rene Sandler reviewed the case in an interview room in the new jail. Inmates in green jumpsuits watched television, read, or played board games in the main room. An unarmed guard sat behind a panel of switches and monitors to keep track of everyone.

Tony walked in and put down his latest motion, a writ of habeas corpus requesting his immediate release based on his time in pretrial custody. He had been up all night drafting it.

"This is what he's done for 20 years," Sandler says.

On July 13, Maryland's court of appeals handed down its decision: By majority vote, the panel ruled against Raines, reversing the lower court's suppression of Raines's DNA evidence. Rene Sandler and Steve Mercer already had begun preparing their petition to the US Supreme Court for review. It will be months before the high court decides whether it will hear the appeal.

There is no telling when Raines might get out of jail. If he's convicted of rape, he could spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Should Raines get another chance at freedom, what would he like to do?

"I want to work in law," Raines says. "I know a bit about it already."

UDC law school likes to admit older students who have prior legal experience. Sandler and Mercer both teach at the school.

"I'm good for a reference," Sandler says.

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