The Maryland Court of Special Appeals recently addressed two interesting questions of criminal trial procedure. The first question was what kind of crime could be used to impeach (discredit) a witness. The second question was whether a trial court is permitted to refuse a re-cross examination once new testimony is given on an issue.
The case arose in early 2010 when a woman (the defendant) asked a man for a ride home from a strip club. The man agreed and when they got to the apartment where the defendant’s cousin lived, the defendant asked him to accompany her to the apartment. She said she would go home with him, but needed to tell her cousin where she was going.
As they walked to the apartment, the defendant pulled out a handgun and asked the man for his money and keys. She shot him as he got his keys from his pocket and then drove off in his car.
After the defendant left, the man called 911 and gave the police a report. When she was apprehended, the defendant was charged with numerous crimes. At trial, she claimed she acted in self-defense because she was afraid that the man was going to sexually assault her.
During a cross-examination of the man, defense counsel tried to impeach him by introducing evidence of his prior convictions, which included assault on a police officer, threat to do bodily harm and reckless endangerment.
The State objected and the court sustained those objections. In defense counsel’s view, reckless endangerment and fleeing an officer were crimes that showed moral turpitude. The court disagreed.
A jury convicted the defendant of first-degree assault, armed carjacking, use of a handgun in the commission of a felony, and wearing a handgun. The court sentenced her to 3 concurrent sentences of 15 years imprisonment.
The defendant appealed on two issues. The first issue was whether the defense counsel was permitted to impeach a victim’s credibility with evidence of prior convictions for assault on a police officer and fleeing a law enforcement officer. The second issue was whether the trial court improperly denied the defense attorney the chance to cross-examine a witness for the State.
The State argued that Maryland required a conviction to be a common law felony or a lesser crime bearing on credibility in order to be used for impeachment purposes. The victim’s crimes in this case were not felonies. They did not involve stealing, fraud or deceit. Therefore they weren’t relevant to credibility.
The appellate court agreed with the State. It reasoned also that in order to admit the prior conviction to impeach the victim, the trial court needed to determine that the probative value of the prior conviction outweighed any danger of unfair prejudice to the witness.
With respect to the second issue, the appellate court noted that the trial court had advised the parties that he did not permit a re-cross after a redirect examination and that the parties would have to raise timely objections or waive them. As a result of this rule, the defense counsel was prevented from re-cross.
The defense attorney had elicited testimony in which the detective stated that the defendant told him she thought the man was going to grab her. On redirect, the State elicited testimony from the detective indicating that no grabbing actually occurred. The defense attorney did not object, but asked for a limited re-cross. The trial court refused.
The appellate court ruled that it is not appropriate for a trial judge to determine before a redirect examination that no re-cross examination will be permitted. To deny it in a case like this where new information was elicited on re-direct, was prejudicial.
Although it found an abuse of discretion, the appellate court found that the court’s errors were harmless and did not actually affect the verdict. The same information was established through other witnesses.
As you can see, going to trial can be complicated and requires the assistance of a knowledgeable and experienced criminal defense attorney. If you are charged with a crime, contact Anthony A. Fatemi and his legal team for a free consultation at 301-519-2801 or via the online form.
Maryland Court Rules Assault May Occur Even Victims Not Present, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, May 10. 2013
Maryland Appellate Court Rules Against Defendant Who Cut a Police Dog, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, May 7, 2013