Bill of Particulars in Maryland Criminal Cases

highway-by-night-1159533-mIn a recent case, the defendant was driving with five others when they came upon a man who was standing in the middle of the road. They swerved to avoid hitting him. The defendant and another passenger came back to the man, who seemed to be drunk. The man came up to the defendant and tried to hug him; the defendant almost knocked him into a car that was passing by.

The other passenger hit the drunken man in the face knocking him into the street. Then the defendant and passenger drove off. A car came by and ran over the drunken man, killing him. The reckless endangerment count was filed using statutory “short form.” This means that it didn’t state the factual basis for the crime.

Accordingly, the defendant asked the State to give him a “bill of particulars” that specified what in the defendant’s conduct constituted reckless endangerment, what the defendant had done to act recklessly, what the defendant had done to create a substantial risk of death or serious injury, and what facts showed the defendant had disregarded this risk.

The State provided vague responses that all of this information was contained in discovery. The defendant filed exceptions on the grounds that the defendant had failed to answer the questions with any specificity as required by the Maryland Rule 4-241(b). The discovery was 600 pages long. The trial court, however, overruled the defendant’s exceptions, reasoning that the Rule did not expect that State to give particulars as to all its evidence or legal theories.

At trial, the State explained in its opening arguments that what had happened was senseless violence. The State claimed that the defendant’s actions and those of the other passenger were related.

After the State presented its case, the defendant moved for a judgment of acquittal. The motion was granted with respect to manslaughter and conspiracy, but was denied with respect to reckless endangerment. The basis for the denial was that it had looked to the driver of the car like the defendant’s pushing of the drunken man into the car was purposeful.

The State proceeded on a new theory because of the judge’s ruling. It focused on the defendant’s earlier push in the direction of the passing car. The defendant was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison.

The defendant was unsuccessful in his appeal to the Court of Special Appeals. The Court of Appeals agreed to hear the case, addressing the issue of whether the trial court had improperly overruled the defendant’s exceptions to the State’s bill of particulars, among other things.

The defendant argued that a bill of particulars is supposed to give the defendant facts that support the charges against him. Simply directing a defendant to discovery materials doesn’t provide sufficient notice of what the State is basing its case upon. The defendant argued he wasn’t able to prepare adequately for trial because of the State’s response. The State argued that if it had to particularize the facts, it would be giving away its legal theory. The appellate court explained that a bill of particular is intended to inform the defendant of the charge so that he could prepare a defense and protect himself against a later prosecution for the same offense. Though the Court had not previously defined “bill of particulars,” Black’s Law Dictionary explained that a bill of particulars is supposed to be a detailed statement.

The appellate court reasoned that a bill of particulars requested in response to a short form indictment is supposed to give a defendant the information that he would have had if a standard indictment was used. The appellate court concluded that  the State was constitutionally required to furnish more detailed information and reversed and remanded the decision.

If you are arrested or charged with a crime, you should consult with an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney. We will develop the best strategy we can to defend your case. Contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

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What Constitutes “Contempt of Court” in Maryland Criminal Court, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, December 12, 2013

Is Self-Defense an Available Defense in a Charge of Affray? Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, November 18, 2013

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