Under Maryland criminal law, a murder that is not “in the first degree” is considered to be “in the second degree.” And in accordance with established case law, there are four types of second-degree murder. In order to reach a conviction under one type or another, the state must prove the specific elements, depending on the charges. One of the four categories is second-degree felony murder. Under state law, an underlying felony can warrant a conviction for second-degree felony murder when it is committed in a way that is “dangerous to life.” Like many criminal provisions, the language may be subject to interpretation and application by the court. If you have been arrested or charged with any crime, it is important to be clear about the charges against you and to work quickly to protect your rights and freedom. You are encouraged to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
In a recent criminal case, the victim was allegedly beaten, robbed, and shot by a group of men while he was on his way home from work. Tyshon Jones was one of the four men accused of taking part in these crimes. A jury found him not guilty of first-degree murder, second-degree murder with the intent to inflict serious bodily harm, armed robbery, and robbery. The jury, however, was unable to reach a verdict regarding the charges of first-degree felony murder and the use of a handgun during the commission of a felony or crime of violence. The court granted a mistrial with respect to the last two charges.
The State petitioned the court to allow it to retry Jones on the charge of second-degree felony murder based on first-degree assault, claiming that the first-degree assault can serve as an underlying felony for a charge of second-degree felony murder. Jones argued that the constitutional prohibition against “double jeopardy” prevented the State from bringing this charge. The circuit court ruled in favor of the State and concluded that the second-degree felony murder charge based on first-degree assault was a “viable charge” because it arose out of the facts of the case, and Jones had not been acquitted of the underlying offense of first-degree assault.
Jones appealed, arguing that his acquittal of second-degree murder with the intent to inflict serious bodily harms bars the State from trying him again for second-degree murder based on first-degree assault. The court of appeals looked at whether the two offenses are considered the same within the context of the prohibition against double jeopardy. The court reviewed the elements of both offenses under the lens of the “required evidence test.” As part of this review, the court noted that no Maryland court has addressed this form of second-degree felony murder: where the underlying first-degree assault was committed with a firearm.
The court reasoned that two offenses will be deemed to be the same for double jeopardy purposes when only one of them requires proof of an additional fact, so that all elements of one offense are present in the other. Here, the court found that all of the elements of the offense of second-degree murder with the intent to inflict serious bodily harm are elements of the offense of second-degree felony murder based on first-degree assault. Therefore, the court held that the two offenses qualify as the same offense under the double jeopardy clause. As a result, the State was not permitted to pursue the charge against the defendant.
This case illustrates how a strong defense, based on established Maryland case law, can make a big difference in the outcome of a criminal case. Anthony A. Fatemi has extensive experience handling criminal defense cases throughout Maryland. Our office will work diligently to develop a strong strategy to defend your case. Contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.
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