Maryland Court of Special Appeals Orders the Reversal of a Conviction Based on ‘Clearly Legally Insufficient’ Evidence

There are various ways in which the state can pursue a case against you based on drug or weapons charges, with one of those being a “possession” charge. Many times, the prosecution seeks to do so by proving you had “constructive possession” of the contraband. That often relies heavily on circumstantial evidence, and may be more readily defeated than an “actual possession” charge. With the help of a knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense attorney, you may be able to minimize the persuasiveness of the state’s circumstantial evidence and get the acquittal or dismissal you need.

Here in Maryland, the law has created a four-part method for determining constructive possession. In the example of possession of ammunition, those parts are: (1) Did the defendant have ownership or the legal right to possess the item (such as a car, a home, a desk or a dresser) where the ammunition was found? (2) Was the ammunition located in close proximity to the accused? (3) Was the property item in “plain view”? (4) Was there any evidence of actual possession of the ammunition?

The recent case a Baltimore man recently faced is an example of clearly insufficient evidence of constructive possession. It’s important to remember that, in every element of the criminal charges you’re facing, it is the state that bears the burden of proof. In other words, the prosecutors have to “prove it” rather than your having to negate elements of the crime.

In M.M.’s case, the state’s evidence of the four factors was too weak. The ammunition in question was a box containing eight cartridges sitting on top of a dresser in the bedroom where M.M. allegedly slept. The box, however, “was largely hidden on the cluttered top of a dresser on the far side of the room.” Recall that “close proximity” is one element of constructive possession. According to the appeals court, the facts in M.M.’s case took proximity and stretched it “past its breaking point.”

There was no plain view… unless the defendant had superhero-level ‘visual acuity’

The hidden nature of that box also meant there was no plain view, another of the essential elements needed for constructive possession. As the appeals court colorfully described it, the prosecution’s proof of “plain view” would have required the accused man to have Superman’s X-ray vision skills in order for the box atop the extremely cluttered dresser to be within his plain view.

Additionally, the prosecution fell short on ownership or “possessory control” of the property where the ammunition was found. While M.M. admitted that he lived at the home, he was not the legal owner of the property. In Maryland, an admission that you live at a home is not, by itself, enough to create criminal liability “for any contraband or other evidence found anywhere on the premises.”

The law requires the state to prove the elements of a crime, not you to disprove them

M.M.’s case is also an important reminder about how the burden of proof helps you as the defendant. When it came to proving possessory control, the state gave the jury no evidence about the relationship between M.M. and the woman who possessed the home. As the appeals court described it, there was “not a word in the five-day trial [that] ever suggested the existence of any sort of relationship between the [defendant] and [the woman], romantic, proprietary, or conspiratorial.”

The reality was that there very possibly was some relationship between M.M. and the woman at the time of M.M.’s arrest. The woman’s subsequent obituary from 2019 listed M.M. as her fiancé. However, here’s the key thing: the state didn’t present any evidence of a relationship and, when the state doesn’t prove something, then (under the law) that “something” doesn’t count in deciding your guilt.

There’s so much that goes into building a successful criminal defense. One of the essential ingredients is having a skilled, knowledgeable and determined legal professional advocating for you. To put that kind of powerful resource on your side, talk to the experienced Maryland criminal defense attorneys at the firm of Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC. Our attorneys have many years of first-hand experience giving criminal defendants the most potent and persuasive defenses possible. To learn more, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

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