How the “Rule of Lenity” Approaches Maryland Cases Involving Multiple Charges of Criminal Conduct

sign-no-alcohol-1231362-mEvery stage of a criminal case, from arrest to the final appeal, presents an opportunity to assert one’s rights. The Constitution and local state laws ensure that no citizen may be deprived of these rights unfairly and without due process. Maryland courts are often called upon to interpret various provisions of the state criminal code as it applies to any one particular person alleged to have committed a crime. If you have been arrested or charged with a crime, you may be entitled to assert a solid defense to the charges. The most effective course of action is to contact an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney as soon as possible after an arrest.

In a recent case, Wiredu v. State of Maryland, the appellant successfully appealed part of his sentences. According to the facts, Wiredu was driving home on a four-lane road (two southbound and two northbound lanes) when his truck collided with a motorcycle headed in the oncoming lane. Although Wiredu testified that the motorcycle swerved into his lane, an officer witnessed the accident and testified that Wiredu “merged” into the motorcycle’s oncoming lane. The officer’s version of the incident was corroborated by a Baltimore firefighter who also witnessed the accident.

After the collision, the officer noticed that Wiredu exhibited symptoms of a person under the influence of alcohol. Wiredu refused to take a field sobriety test, and the officer subsequently arrested him. Wiredu was charged with multiple crimes, including second-degree assault, causing a life-threatening injury to another by motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol, driving while under the influence, and other items. A jury convicted Wiredu of most of the charges, and the court sentenced him to 10 years for second-degree assault and indecent exposure, to a consecutive two years for causing a life-threatening injury to another by motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol, and other items.

As part of his appeal, Wiredu claimed that under the “rule of lenity” the second-degree assault conviction should “merge” with a violation of CL Section 3-211(d)(1) — causing a life-threatening injury to another by motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol – for purposes of sentencing. Wiredu argued that both convictions arose from the same car accident and involved the same victim. The court of appeals agreed with this argument, but not before reviewing relevant state criminal law governing the issue. First, the court found that under the “required evidence test,” the two sentences would not merge. The court looked at both statutes and determined that the offenses required different levels of proof in order to satisfy the respective laws. Secondly, however, the court found that under the “rule of lenity,” the sentences should have been merged. Under this rule, the court looked at:  1) whether the two offenses arose out of the same criminal conduct, and 2) whether the Legislature intended to impose multiple punishments for the separate crimes.

The court concluded that the two offenses arose out of the same conduct (choosing to drive while impaired by alcohol and negligently causing a car accident that injured the motorcyclist). Next, the court found no evidence that the Legislature intended to authorize multiple punishments for a second-degree assault and the violation based on a single traffic accident. The court ultimately held, among other things, that the second-degree assault sentence must be merged with the sentence for violating CL Section 3-211(d)(1).

This case is a good illustration of one of the many ways a person may successfully challenge a court-imposed sentence. At any stage of a criminal case, it is essential that you reach out to an experienced defense attorney who can work to protect your rights and freedom.  Anthony A. Fatemi has extensive experience handling criminal defense cases throughout Maryland.  Our office will work diligently to develop a strong strategy to defend your case. Contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

Related Blog Posts:

Maryland Court of Special Appeals Reinstates Criminal Conviction

Maryland Court Interprets “Enhanced Sentencing” Statute in Robbery Case

Maryland Court Upholds Criminal Conviction for Second-Degree Assault

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