Maryland Court Upholds Criminal Conviction for Second-Degree Assault

Under Maryland law, a person can be charged with the following three types of second-degree assault:  intent to frighten, attempted battery, and battery. Case law sets forth explicit criteria to determine whether a criminal defendant has committed any of these crimes. In order to convict a defendant, the State must offer supporting evidence to satisfy each of the elements. In many criminal cases, the person charged may be able to assert various defenses in order to either negate or reduce the severity of the charges. A criminal arrest is a serious matter and should be handled accordingly. An experienced criminal defense attorney would carefully review your case and prepare the best defense under the circumstances.

In a recent Maryland court of appeals case, the defendant was charged with certain criminal offenses, including second-degree assault of the “intent-to-frighten” type against the victim, Christine Johnson (“Johnson” or “victim”). The facts revealed at trial indicate that the defendant walked up to an apartment and knocked on the door. There was some yelling between the defendant and the person who answered the door. After the door was shut, there were three gunshots. The defendant then returned to the car. Other testimony suggested that he was looking for certain people in the apartment. The police found bullet holes in and above the front door, as well as in the apartment.

The jury convicted the defendant of the crimes, including the second-degree assault of the intent-to-frighten type. The defendant appealed. The Maryland court of special appeals affirmed the decision. This court of appeals granted certiorari to review the matter.  The defendant argued that there was insufficient evidence to support the conviction. Specifically, he claimed that there was insufficient evidence to support a “reasonable inference” that the defendant knew that Johnson, or anyone other than the person who answered the door, was in the apartment, and that a person cannot commit this type of second-degree assault against a victim of whose presence in particular the defendant does not know.

The State argued that there was sufficient evidence supporting a reasonable inference that the defendant knew there were multiple people in the apartment, and that the State may prove intent through circumstantial evidence. Section 3-203 of the Maryland Code criminalizes second-degree assault. Under Maryland case law, a defendant commits the intent-to-frighten type when he or she commits an act with the intent to place another person in fear of immediate physical harm, the defendant has the apparent ability at that time to bring about the physical harm, and the victim is aware of the impending harm.

The court concluded that a defendant could commit second-degree assault of the intent-to-frighten type against a victim of whose presence he or she does not know. The court found there to be sufficient evidence to support a reasonable inference that the defendant knew people were in the apartment, and that he intended to place people in the apartment in immediate physical harm. Based on these findings, the court concluded that the defendant intended to place everyone in the “zone of danger” in fear of immediate physical harm, even if he did not know of the victim’s presence in the zone of danger.

This case nicely illustrates the complexity of criminal statutes and the nature of evidence that must be provided to defend your case. If you are arrested or charged with a crime, you should consult with an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney. We will develop a strong strategy to defend your case. Contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

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