Maryland Court Upholds Admission of Evidence of Other Crimes in Attempted Second-Degree Murder Case

A person who is arrested or charged with a criminal offense will be entitled to many legal protections throughout the criminal proceedings. It is important to understand the extent of one’s legal rights at each stage of the process. Once a case reaches trial, there are many local state rules of evidence that a court may enforce in order to protect the person charged with a crime. One important example concerns the State’s use of evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts in the pursuit of a conviction. Maryland law is fairly clear on this issue. Evidence of prior criminal acts may not be introduced to prove the guilt of the offense for which the defendant is on trial. As with many evidence rules, there are certain exceptions, the applicability of which will depend on the circumstances of the case. If you have any questions regarding a criminal arrest or charge, it is essential that you contact a Maryland criminal defense attorney as soon as possible in order to protect your rights.

In a recent case, Page v. State of Maryland, Jamal Marcus Page appealed his conviction, arguing (among other things) that the court erred in allowing evidence of an alleged “other assault,” committed by Page against the victim approximately two weeks prior to the charged offense. According to the facts revealed at trial, the victim — Rubearth Nichols — claimed that Page shot him six times and then ran away. He further testified that he had known Page for approximately nine or ten years and identified him, both in and out of court. Nichols further testified that, two weeks before this shooting, he and Page had argued over money and that Page attempted to shoot him then, but his gun jammed. The jury convicted Page of attempted second-degree murder and the use of a handgun in the commission of a felony or crime of violence (among other crimes). He was sentenced to 50 years of incarceration, with 15 years suspended.

On appeal, Page contended that the court should not have admitted evidence of the prior assault at trial.  Under Maryland Rule 5-404(b), evidence of “[o]ther crimes, wrongs or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show action in conformity therewith.” However, such evidence may be admissible to prove motive, intent, identity, and other enumerated items. In order to admit evidence of other crimes, a court must conduct a three-step analysis before allowing the evidence to be presented to the jury.  First, the evidence must be relevant to the offense charged on a basis separate from the mere propensity to commit crime.  Second, the court must determine whether the accused’s involvement in the earlier crime is established by a clear and convincing evidence standard. And third, courts must weigh the necessity for — and probative value of — the prior assault against any undue prejudice that is likely to result from such an admission.

Here, the court of appeals reviewed each item and determined:  1) that the prior assault had special, heightened relevance apart from exposing a criminal propensity (it was relevant to the identity of the shooter, his plan, and his motive); 2) that it had no basis on which to conclude that the victim’s testimony would not be legally sufficient to persuade the lower court that the prior assault occurred by clear and convincing evidence; and 3) that the court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that the evidence was not unfairly prejudicial to the degree where it would outweigh the probative value of the evidence. Therefore, the court of appeals upheld the admission of prior assault evidence, due to its heightened relevance in establishing the identity of the appellant as well as his motive and intent to commit the crime.

This case illustrates the importance of understanding one’s legal rights throughout the criminal process.  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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