In a recent case, a Maryland appellate court considered, among other issues, the question of whether two convictions for conspiracy to commit first-degree burglary had created double jeopardy. The victim of the burglary lived with his sister in Maryland. In December 2010, he came home to the back door broken open and clothes spread about.
When a policeman responded, he said that the living room was neat, but the victim’s bedroom was ransacked. Several suspects were investigated. The defendant eventually acknowledged his assistance in planning the burglary. There was an agreement that he would get something from the burglary, but he changed his mind before the burglary actually took place without telling his two co-conspirators.
The State presented evidence at trial to show that the defendant made two distinct agreements to burglarize and therefore deserved to be convicted of two separate conspiracies. However, the defendant argued that both his agreements with the two co-conspirators were part of one conspiracy.
The defendant was convicted of conspiracy for first-degree burglary, conspiracy for third-degree burglary, accessory before the fact to first-degree burglary and accessory before the fact to third-degree burglary. The sentencing was ultimately based on two convictions for conspiracy to commit first-degree burglary and a conviction for being an accessory to first-degree burglary. He was sentenced to 8-year terms for each of the first two convictions.
Criminal conspiracy in Maryland involves two or more people that plan to accomplish an unlawful purpose or a lawful purpose through unlawful means. The State has the burden to prove the agreement or agreements underlying a conspiracy prosecution.
The jury must to determine whether there has been more than one conspiracy. To determine whether there are two distinct conspiracies, the jury must find that there was one agreement to commit an illegal act. In this case, the jury was not instructed properly. It did not find the defendant had entered into more than one agreement.
The appellate court reasoned that there was testimony that the jury could credit to two separate conspiracies. The State tried to prove that the conspiracy for burglary was initially between the defendant and one man. When the man dropped out, the defendant joined with another man in the same endeavor.
The appellate court explained that if a defendant is convicted and sentenced for multiple conspiracies when there’s been just one, the conviction/sentence violates the Double Jeopardy clause. In other words, he has been convicted twice for one crime. In this case, there was no way to be sure that the jurors who voted guilty did not see each of the agreements as one overall conspiracy among the three to burglarize the home. The same penalty was assessed for both charges. Moreover the jury sent a note to the judge during deliberations to the judge asking, “What is the difference between counts one and three, and counts two and four? They are the same.” It appeared they were confused.
The appellate court concluded that one of the defendant’s conspiracy convictions needed to be vacated. If you are accused of conspiracy or another crime, ask an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney like Anthony A. Fatemi and his legal team for help. Contact his office for a free consultation at 301-519-2801 or via the online form.
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