In any criminal defense, there are two essential parts of the process. First, there is the pursuit of a dismissal or acquittal. Failing that, there is the second part, the pursuit of a fair and just sentence. In the case of one man convicted of assault, the Court of Special Appeals recently threw out a trial judge’s decision to hand down the maximum sentence. The sentence had to be reversed because the judge relied upon statements made by the prosecutor, but the prosecutor’s statements did not have the required level of reliable evidence and details to support them.
The case involved a Prince George’s County man accused of assaulting his then-girlfriend. After a trial, the man was found guilty. The maximum sentence for the second-degree assault charge upon which the man was convicted was 10 years. The trial judge sentenced the defendant to 10 years. In announcing the sentence, the judge’s comments made it clear that a key factor influencing the sentence was the prosecutor’s statements that the defendant had been involved in numerous previous assaults, including at least one that, according to the prosecutor’s understanding, was a “domestic issue.” The judge stated that the defendant had “repeated contacts for second-degree assaults” and kept “getting involved in these domestic violence situations.”
The defendant appealed and was successful in getting his sentence reversed. The problem was the lack of detailed support for the assertions the prosecutor made. A trial judge, in setting a sentence, can rely on past conduct even if the conduct never led to criminal charges, as long as there is “reliable evidence” and “details and circumstances.” The law is clear that “bald accusations of criminal conduct for which a person either has not been tried or has been tried and acquitted, standing alone, may not be considered.”
The information that influenced the judge in handing down the maximum sentence was lacking exactly the type of reliable evidence or details and circumstances the law required. The prosecutor stated that the defendant had 10 unrelated assaults on his record and that one was related to domestic violence. This was the only information the prosecutor gave to the judge. The prosecutor did not communicate that, of the 10 assault charges, one resulted in an acquittal, five were dismissed, and three were placed on the stet (inactive) docket.
Additionally, the prosecutor’s understanding about the other pending case (namely, that the alleged victim was a female) wasn’t reliable evidence. Even though the appeals court did “not doubt the prosecutor’s trustworthiness as to her understanding,” her understanding did not meet the standard for “reliable evidence,” even if that understanding was accurate.
The law demands more than just a lawyer’s understanding with regard to a defendant’s alleged past bad acts or criminal activities. In the past, the Court of Appeals has upheld these types of sentences in cases with reliable evidence like witness testimony. As one example, in the case of a 1984 Prince George’s County rape, the “reliable evidence” related to another attempted rape for which the defendant had not been charged. In that case, the victim of the alleged rape testified and gave specific facts, so the sentence was allowable.
In this case, this defendant got a more severe sentence because of his arrest record, even “without reliable evidence of the details and circumstances of the charges contained in that record.” That was insufficient and required a reversal of the sentence.
In defending yourself in a criminal matter, there is the defense against the charges and there is also advocacy with regard to sentencing. Each of these are important parts of your defense. Skilled Maryland assault defense attorney Anthony A. Fatemi has been working on behalf of the accused in Maryland for many years to provide them with a full, vigorous, and reliable defense. To learn more, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.
More blog posts:
Maryland Court Reviews Allegations of an “Illegal Sentence” in Criminal Case, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, Jan. 22, 2016
Maryland Court Interprets “Enhanced Sentencing” Statute in Robbery Case, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, Nov. 10, 2014