Improper Disallowance of Son’s Testimony Violated a Maryland Man’s Right to Present His ‘Full Defense’

The law gives criminal defendants relatively wide-ranging rights when it comes to presenting their defenses in order to ensure that the defendant gets every appropriate opportunity to present his full defense in court. That concept helped one man accused of a gun possession crime to obtain a reversal of his conviction recently. The Court of Special Appeals concluded that, while part of the witness’ testimony may have been inadmissible, that fact did not allow the trial judge to exclude the witness from testifying about other admissible issues. Anyone accused of a crime should work with a knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense lawyer to ensure that their rights are fully protected and that they get to put on their full defense to the jury in their case.

The gun possession case began as an attempt by law enforcement officers in Charles County to pursue suspicious (possibly stolen) vehicles. Officers converged on the home of a man named Ronald, where many of the suspicious vehicles were located. The officers eventually entered the home, searched the home, and found a locked closet in the master bedroom. They discovered a safe inside the closet and, while searching the contents of the closet and the safe, found a loaded handgun.

At his trial, Ronald faced a series of theft-related charges as well as a gun possession charge. In his defense, Ronald sought to call as a witness his son, Dresean. The defense informed the court that Dresean would testify about the living situation in Ronald’s house, but, if asked about the ownership of the gun, Dresean would invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. The trial judge disallowed Dresean’s testimony, and the jury eventually convicted Ronald on the gun charge (while acquitting him on all of the other charges).

Ronald appealed his conviction, arguing that the trial judge improperly disallowed Dresean’s testimony. The Court of Special Appeals agreed with Ronald and reversed the conviction. The outcome of Ronald’s case is an important reminder of just how broad a defendant’s right to put on his full defense really is.

There were two parts to the alleged testimony that Dresean would have given. One part involved the son testifying openly about the living situation in the house, included who stayed there and where several of the family members slept. The second part would have involved Dresean invoking his Fifth Amendment privilege in front of the jury in response to any questions about the gun.

With regard to the gun inquiry and the son’s invocation of the Fifth Amendment, the law says that this type of testimony is allowable sometimes but to be disallowed sometimes. A 2002 Court of Appeals ruling stated that this type of testimony is admissible if the defendant has provided some other proof that, if believed by the jury, would link the witness to the crime in question; otherwise, it’s not admissible. Using that standard, the trial court in Ronald’s case barred Dresean from testifying.

The problem wasn’t Dresean’s would-be use of his Fifth Amendment rights. The problem was the rest of Dresean’s proposed testimony. The son’s testimony about the living arrangements in the home was admissible. Dresean’s testimony that Ronald slept in the basement and that others (including Dresean) had access to the kitchen that contained the key to the locked master bedroom closet all served as pieces of potentially exculpatory evidence with regard to whether or not Ronald possessed the gun. This meant that the testimony should have been allowed, and its disallowance required a new trial.

Skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney Anthony A. Fatemi has been working on behalf of the accused in Maryland for many years to provide them with a full and zealous defense at trial. If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges, it is important to take prompt and helpful steps to strengthen your case. To learn more about how this office can help you, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

More blog posts:

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

Maryland Court Overturns Conviction Based on Error During Voir Dire (Jury Questioning), Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, Dec. 4, 2015


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