If you watch TV courtroom dramas, you’ve probably seen the scenario: the intrepid defense lawyer, on cross-examination, seeks to weaken the prosecution’s case by questioning the prosecution’s star witness about his motives: namely, whether or not the witness negotiated a favorable plea deal in exchange for his testimony. While many common situations in TV courtroom dramas are wholly fictional, this one has some basis in fact. In many situations, the defense is entitled to ask a prosecution witness about whether he has reached, expects to reach, or hopes to reach a favorable plea deal on his own pending criminal charges. These questions can be essential to show bias on the part of the witness and weaken the credibility of the prosecution’s witness. A skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney can help you with these and other criminal defense trial strategies.
In one recent case, a man convicted of murder was able to secure a new trial precisely because his attorney sought to ask these types of questions of a key prosecution witness, but the trial judge did not allow the questions.
The defendant, Rudy, was facing first-degree murder charges in connection with a shooting outside an apartment in Prince George’s County. At Rudy’s trial, the prosecution’s version of events was that Rudy killed the victim “execution-style” as a result of an argument the men had inside the apartment. Rudy’s version of the facts was that the victim pushed him, tried to hit him with a fire extinguisher, and pulled a gun on Rudy. That gun was what killed the victim, according to Rudy, since it discharged when he tried to wrestle it away from the deceased man.
The prosecution called Edi as a witness. Edi testified that Rudy intentionally shot the victim in the head at close range shortly after the victim turned to face Rudy. Obviously, Edi’s testimony was an extremely important component of the state’s case when it came to proving that the shooting was an intentional killing rather than the accidental result of a struggle. At the time that Edi gave his testimony, he was facing charges too. His charges, which were not related to the apartment shooting, included two burglary charges, a weapons charge, and a theft charge.
Rudy’s attorney sought to ask Edi if he had made, expected, or hoped to secure a favorable plea deal on his pending charges in exchange for his testimony against Rudy. The judge, however, didn’t allow Rudy’s lawyer to ask the question. Rudy was eventually convicted of second-degree murder.
The Court of Special Appeals upheld the conviction, but the Court of Appeals decided that Rudy was entitled to a reversal and a new trial. The high court’s ruling explained that, in determining whether these types of questions are allowed, the correct viewpoint is that of the witness. In other words, if the witness, in his own mind, holds hope or expectation of a favorable resolution to his own criminal charges in exchange for testimony that helps the prosecution, the bias exists, regardless of whether or not the state actually intends to offer the witness any sort of plea deal. Maryland law is very clear that the defense in a criminal trial should receive “wide latitude to cross-examine a witness as to bias or prejudices.”
There are many trial strategies and lines of questioning that can be very effective in presenting your defense in a criminal trial. Skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney Anthony A. Fatemi has been providing reliable defense representation for the accused in Maryland for many years. To learn more, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.
More blog posts:
How an Accused Man Turned a Baltimore Judge’s Error into a Reversal of His First-Degree Murder Conviction, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, Jan. 12, 2018
Improper Disallowance of Son’s Testimony Violated a Maryland Man’s Right to Present His ‘Full Defense’, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, Sept. 26, 2017
Photo Credit: Brad Shorr, [CC0 License], via Wikimedia Commons