Maryland Court Vacates “Affray” Conviction in Criminal Case

In a Maryland criminal trial, the State must prove the elements of the crime of which the defendant is accused “beyond a reasonable doubt.” A significant aspect of this part of a case involves jury instructions. The judge is legally obligated to give the jury instructions on the elements of the crime (or crimes) for which a person is being tried. These instructions must adhere to local state law, or the ultimate conviction could be overturned. This is just one way a person charged or convicted of a crime may seek legal recourse. To learn more about your rights in a criminal case, it is important to consult with an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney.

The defendant in a recent Maryland case challenged his conviction of involuntary manslaughter, assault in the second degree, reckless endangerment, and affray, claiming (among other things) that the circuit court committed error in instructing the jury on the crime of “affray.” Affray is legally defined as “the fighting together of two or more persons, either by mutual consent or otherwise, in some public place, to the terror of the people.”

Most of the facts in this case were not in dispute, since there happened to be surveillance cameras in the area where the alleged crimes occurred. According to the facts presented at trial, after a night of drinking at a local tavern, the defendant became physical with the victim, which led to them punching and pushing each other. The bartender broke up the fight. When the defendant left the bar, the victim was still outside. At that point, the defendant punched him in the face, causing him to fall on his head as he landed on the ground. Later, a pathologist reported that the head injury caused the victim to die.

The defendant was charged with assault in the second degree and involuntary manslaughter for his role in the victim’s death. The first jury trial resulted in a mistrial. The State brought a new indictment, adding reckless endangerment, intoxication, and affray to the charges. A second jury trial took place, and the judge gave the jury instructions for deliberation. The defendant was convicted of all the charges except intoxication. On appeal, the defendant argued (among other things) that the court erred by instructing the jury on the crime of affray.

The court of special appeals pointed out that affray is a common law offense in Maryland and not codified in the criminal statutes. In order to establish affray, the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the alleged fighting was in a “public place” and “to the terror of the people.” Accordingly, the court concluded that a jury instruction on the crime of affray must include both elements:  a fight “in a public place” and a “terror to the people.” Here, the circuit court judge omitted that second element from the jury instruction.

The court of special appeals concluded that it was appropriate to instruct the jury on the crime of affray under the facts of this case. The court also concluded that it was an error to leave out the element of “terror to the people.” Finally, since the error was deemed not to be harmless, the court vacated the defendant’s conviction for affray. Despite this ruling, the court affirmed the rest of the conviction, pointing out that “terror to the people” is not an element of assault in the second degree or reckless endangerment. And the jury was properly instructed regarding involuntary manslaughter as well.

This case nicely illustrates the extreme importance of knowing and understanding criminal law in Maryland and how it could apply to your case. If you are arrested or charged with a crime, you are encouraged to consult with Anthony Fatemi, an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney. Our office will develop a strong strategy to defend your case. Contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

Related Blog Posts:

Maryland Court Reverses Criminal Conviction for Failure to Ask Requested “Voir Dire” Question

Maryland Court’s Refusal to Give Requested Jury Instruction Upheld

Maryland Court Upholds Criminal Conviction for Second-Degree Assault

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