All criminal trials are governed by certain sets of rules. One of these sets is the rules of evidence. The rules of evidence can be extremely helpful to your case in the hands of a knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense attorney. These rules can be used to keep out evidence that the law says is not admissible and that, if it got into your case, could potentially harm your defense.
When a trial court does allow inadmissible evidence into a defendant’s case, that error may entitle the accused to a new trial. That was the case for Donald, who was standing trial after the state indicted him on six robbery-related charges and four assault-related charges. At trial, the state produced evidence that Donald and an associate met two alleged drug dealers in a parking lot in St. Mary’s County. A physical altercation ensued, in which the drug dealers alleged that they were “jumped.”
A detective involved in the case took the witness stand and testified as to what one of the alleged drug dealers told him in describing the alleged attack. Donald’s lawyer objected to the testimony, but the judge let the police officer proceed. The trial court acquitted on the robbery charges but convicted Donald on all four assault charges. He received a sentence of 60 years with all but 40 years suspended.
The Court of Special Appeals reversed that outcome and granted Donald a new trial. The key to Donald’s successful appeal is a legal concept called “hearsay.” Hearsay is a type of evidence in which the witness who is testifying testifies based not on his own personal first-hand knowledge but on statements made to him by someone else. In general, unless an exception to the rule applies, hearsay is not admissible evidence at trial.
One of the exceptions that can make hearsay admissible is something called an “excited utterance.” An excited utterance is something said about a startling or stressful event and made while still under the stress or emotion of that event. For example, if someone shot you, and you ran to a nearby shop owner and said, “I’ve been shot by a person in a red car,” that might qualify as an excited utterance, and it might make the shop owner’s testimony about your statement admissible evidence in the trial of the alleged shooter.
In Donald’s case, the statements to which the police officer testified were made two hours after the alleged attack. In that time, the alleged victim had had time to contemplate his words and had even changed his story. This two-hour gap was simply too long to allow for the excited utterance exception to apply and make the officer’s testimony admissible.
Once the trial court lets in inadmissible hearsay, you have to (in addition to establishing the testimony’s inadmissibility) show that the judge’s error substantially harmed your case. In Donald’s trial, the police officer’s testimony served to reinforce, and therefore bolster, the testimony the alleged victim gave. Inadmissible testimony that strengthens the testimony of another of the prosecution’s witnesses is generally a substantial harm and one that can trigger an order for a new trial, which Donald received in his case.
Putting on the best possible defense is about presenting a strong case on the facts. It can also require a mastery of the rules of evidence and rules of procedure. Arm yourself with the knowledge and skill you need for your defense. Maryland assault defense attorney Anthony A. Fatemi has been providing strong and effective defense representation for many years. To learn more, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.
More blog posts:
Maryland Woman’s Battered Spouse Defense Entitled Her to Use Boyfriend’s Abusive Words as Evidence at Her Murder Trial, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, Nov. 30, 2017
Maryland Court Rules Call Records Inadmissible as Hearsay, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, July 23, 2015
Photo Credit: Brad Shorr, [CC0 License], via Wikimedia Commons