Regardless of the number or the severity of the crimes charged by the state, the law imposes certain protections against improper overcharging by prosecutors and over-sentencing by courts. In one recent case decided by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, a man convicted of sexually abusing a girl across a four-year period could be charged under the Maryland statute that makes carrying on a continuing course of sexual abuse of a child a crime, but the law only allowed the state to charge him with one violation of this crime, not 10 violations, since his continuing course of abuse involved only one victim.
The defendant at the center of this case was a Frederick County man who stood accused of repeatedly sexually abusing a girl across a four-year period when she was ages 10-14. The man, whom court documents identified as the “putative father” of the victim, had considerable evidence against him. Tests revealed the girl’s DNA on his private anatomy. Also, a fetus the girl aborted at age 14 was tested and found to be the man’s biological offspring. At trial, in addition to this evidence, the victim testified to the years of abuse, which took place in the family home.
In the case, the state charged the man with 18 crimes. The jury convicted him on 17 of the 18, including “five counts of sexual abuse of a minor, ten counts of a continuing course of conduct against a child, and two counts of third degree sexual offense.” Based upon this verdict, the court sentenced the man to a cumulative total of 390 years in prison.
The man appealed, with part of his appeal focusing upon the sentence. He argued on appeal that the Maryland statute making “continuing course of conduct against a child” a crime only allowed the state to charge him with one count in his case, not 10. The state, on the other hand, argued that the law created no such restriction on the manner in which it could charge perpetrators like this man. In this case, the man abused the girl dozens, if not hundreds, of times across the four-year period, with the abuse involving multiple different varieties of sex acts.
The appeals court overturned the man’s sentence. The statute at issue in this instance stated that a “person may not engage in a continuing course of conduct … over a period of 90 days or more, with a victim who is under the age of 14 years at any time during the course of conduct.” The statute limited prosecutors to one continuing course of conduct charge per victim. If the state wanted to pursue the alleged abuser for a larger number of charges based on the abuse of this single victim, it could choose to avoid using the continuing course of conduct crime and instead charge and pursue the abuser for each individual act of abuse “and be burdened with the responsibility of proving specifically every occurrence of each sexual act alleged during the time frame.” Once the state chose to use the continuing course charge, it was obliged to be bound by that statute’s limitations, such as the allowance of only one count per victim.
Assuming the evidence in this case was accurate, this man was not a very sympathetic person. Nevertheless, the law’s protections of all people accused, or even convicted, of crimes serve an important purpose to safeguard people against overreach by prosecutors. If you or a loved one are facing criminal charges, it is important to know that the law and the Constitution give you certain rights and impose certain protections. One of the keys to defending yourself is securing experienced defense counsel. Maryland criminal defense attorney Anthony A. Fatemi has a lengthy history of defending the accused and ensuring that their rights are protected throughout the legal process. Contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.
More blog posts:
Three Maryland Men Convicted as Minors Get Life Sentences Overturned, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, Jan. 22, 2016
Maryland Court Reviews Allegations of an “Illegal Sentence” in Criminal Case, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, Jan. 22, 2016