There are many things that may be worth challenging in court in your criminal case. You may need to contest improperly admitted evidence or you may need to dispute a legally erroneous sentence. Many of these things may require you to make that challenge to the trial judge and, if not successful in the trial court, again on appeal. Raising these challenges in the right way is very important in order to make sure your appeal is not thrown out on procedural grounds, such as a “failure to preserve” an issue for appeal. All of these things are among the many reasons why an in-depth knowledge of proper trial practice is so important, and why you should retain a skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney for your case.
Some family gatherings are cheerful events. Regrettably, not all are; some become contentious and even violent. A father gathering in Silver Spring was an example of the latter. A dispute erupted into a physical altercation between two men at the party. D.P., the son of one of the combatants, pulled a gun and started shooting. One man was grazed on his elbow and another was hit, with the bullet lodging near his stomach.
The state brought charges against D.P., including two counts of first-degree assault and two counts of “use of a handgun in the commission of a crime of violence.” At trial, the state’s evidence was strong. The prosecution had five witnesses who testified that they saw D.P. pull a small gun from his waistband and begin shooting at one man and then firing numerous more shots into the backyard. The state also had two forensics experts who gave testimony that all of the bullets found at the scene were consistent with having come from the same .38 handgun.
One of the state’s witnesses testified that the defendant’s father made a statement that sounded as if the father was “boosting him on,” meaning encouraging the son as he shot his gun. The defense objected to the testimony as inadmissible hearsay, but the judge allowed it in.
The jury found D.P. guilty on all counts. The judge sentenced D.P. to 10 years for the first assault, a concurrent 10-year term for the second assault and two consecutive five-year terms for the two handgun crime charges. That meant that D.P.’s total sentence was 20 years.
D.P. appealed two things to the Court of Special Appeals. One, he asserted that the court should not have allowed the state’s witness to testify about the father’s statements. Two, the man asserted that the judge made an error of law in handing down the sentence.
This case shows several important elements of a criminal trial. In this particular situation, the defendant lost his appeal challenging the admission of the witness statement because the court concluded that the statement did not meet the legal definition of hearsay. D.P. only got to make that argument on appeal because his trial attorney properly objected, which is what’s called “preserving” the issue for appeal. Even if you have a potentially winning argument about improperly admitted evidence, you cannot succeed if you cannot make that argument before the appeals court because you don’t properly preserve it in the trial court.
The challenge to the sentence was more successful. The trial judge sentenced D.P. to two consecutive five-year terms for the gun crimes because that judge believed that a sentence of consecutive terms was mandated by the statute. The appeals court explained that this interpretation was wrong. The law gave the trial judge the discretion to order either consecutive or concurrent sentences. For that reason, D.P. was entitled to have his case sent back to the trial court for re-sentencing.
To get the strong criminal defense representation you need, contact experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney Anthony A. Fatemi, who has been helping the accused in Maryland for many years. To learn more, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.
More blog posts:
The Legal Doctrine of ‘Merger’ Helps a Maryland Defendant Obtain a Re-Sentencing, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, Oct. 9, 2018
Sweating the Small Stuff: How Seemingly Little Details Can Make a Big Difference in Your Maryland Criminal Case, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, May 22, 2017