A Maryland appellate court recently considered whether a defendant competently waived his constitutional right to have a jury decide his case unanimously. The case arose when the defendant stabbed and killed a man in 2009. After an investigation he was charged with first-degree murder and two related weapons offenses.
The prosecution called several witnesses at trial. One testified that the defendant and his victim were arguing on her lawn around 2:00 a.m. and when she told them to get away from her front door, the victim swung a switchblade at the defendant before leaving. The defendant then went into her house, grabbed a knife and followed him. The defendant returned several minutes later, brandishing a bloody knife and stating “this is what I do if somebody messes with me”.
Another witness had previously told the police she witnessed the murder. She admitted in court she had not witnessed it exactly and was under the influence of drugs during the murder.
A third witnesses testified she was the victim’s girlfriend and that on the night she found him lying on the floor, she saw a man who she identified as “Bishop” walking off with a shiny object in his hand. The defendant acknowledged he went by “Bishop”.
The defendant told the police that he had a fight with the victim over a drug transaction, but that this happened earlier in the day and that he had an alibi. He did not identify witnesses. However, the forensic examiner testified that she had analyzed the victim’s fingernail clippings and that there was a mixture of the victim’s and the defendant’s DNA there.
The defense moved for judgment of acquittal. The court denied these motions. The jury began its deliberations, but failed to reach a unanimous decision. After a three-day weekend, they returned and after a few hours stated they could not get to a unanimous decision. The defendant waived his right to a unanimous verdict and accepted the majority verdict. The State, however, would not agree.
The jury reconvened the following day. When they did, the State and defendant both agreed to accept the unanimous verdict. Among other exchanges, the defendant stated that he understood that it was unlikely he would be able to win a reversal on appeal based on the court accepting a non-unanimous verdict. He testified that he wasn’t on medication, nor mentally ill, and that he was thinking clearly.
The court told him that it was likely that the 11-1 split in the jury was against the defendant. The defendant was still clear that he wanted to proceed with a non-unanimous verdict. He was convicted of first-degree murder by a majority verdict and sentenced to life imprisonment; all but 25 years and 3 years concurrent were suspended.
The defendant appealed arguing that his waiver was not competently rendered because his attorney had said that if the jury were “hung”, the State could try the case as often as they wished; he thought this meant they could try him until he was convicted. The State argued that the record viewed in its totality showed a competent waiver. The appellate court noted the extensive waiver inquiry made by the trial court on the question of unanimity, including the judge’s statement to the defendant that the majority likely favored conviction. The appellate court affirmed the validity of the waiver.
Criminal cases have serious potential consequences. They require an aggressive advocate with experience and knowledge in criminal procedures. They may also require an attorney who can explain the consequences of particular procedures to you, as described above. If you have been accused of a crime, contact the qualified and knowledgeable Maryland criminal law attorneys of the Law Offices of Anthony Fatemi and his legal team for a legal consultation. We will work diligently to obtain the best result possible for you.
Maryland Appellate Court Rules Against Defendant Who Cut a Police Dog, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, May 7, 2013
Case Summary: Prostitution Charge Dismissed After Client’s Successful Completion of Diversion Program, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, April 22, 2013