The Court of Special Appeals in Maryland recently considered an interesting question of criminal law: whether a trial judge may condition probation on no direct contact between a defendant and his victim, even when the two are married and want to be together.
Lambert v. State arose in 2009, when James Lambert and his wife were arguing over a lockbox. Lambert pushed his wife and she fell down stairs hurting her head and abdomen. According to Lambert, he was just pushing her away from the lockbox and didn’t intend for his wife to fall. However, he pled guilty to second-degree assault and at his sentencing hearing admitted several prior assaults on his wife.
The wife didn’t show up at the hearing, but did write a letter saying she wasn’t afraid of Mr. Lambert and wanted to go to counseling and reconcile with him. The trial judge sentenced Mr. Lambert to three years of confinement. This confinement was suspended while he remained on three years of supervised probation. Noting a pattern of assault between the two that he had seen in a case in his own career as an attorney, the trial judge conditioned probation on the defendant having “no contact” with his wife during probation.
Mr. Lambert filed a motion for reconsideration, which the judge denied. Meanwhile, an anonymous tip to the State unearthed the fact that the couple talked on the phone almost every day for a week a few months before. Mr. Lambert was charged with a probation violation.
Mr. Lambert made a motion to correct his sentence as illegal. In support of the motion, his wife filed a declaration testifying she wasn’t afraid, claiming that the judge’s no-contact condition “grievously prejudiced and compromised” her marriage. Notwithstanding the wife’s opinion, the court denied the motion.
The case got up to the Court of Appeal during the last third of Mr. Lambert’s sentence in 2013. The Court of Appeal set forth the wide breadth of the trial judge’s discretion during sentencing. A trial judge in Maryland can rely not only on a defendant’s “reputation, prior offenses, health, habits, mental and moral propensities, and social background”, but also his or her own experiences in the same community.
This wide range of judicial discretion is only limited by constitutional and statutory limits and must not be “motivated by ill-will, prejudice, or other impermissible considerations.” Moreover, the trial judge is not limited by the testimony of the victim herself or her wishes. The Court of Appeal noted the distinction between Mrs. Lambert’s own lack of fear and the trial judge’s conclusion that she was in fact at risk of more violence if she and the defendant remained in contact.
The defendant raised the argument that the condition on probation violated his constitutional right to enjoy his marriage. However, because there was no Maryland case law on point that says a ban on contact during criminal probation violates the state’s constitution, the court dismissed this argument. The Court reasoned that by committing a violent act against his wife, Mr. Lambert’s interests in his marriage became subordinate to the state’s interest in punishment and deterrence.
The court affirmed the trial judge’s ruling.
Criminal cases involving domestic violence charges are extremely sensitive. If you are dealing with a matter like the one described in this post, the quality of your life and future relationships may depend on hiring a qualified and knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense lawyer today. Contact lawyer Anthony Fatemi and his legal team for a legal consultation. They have years of experience in Maryland criminal defense, including charges involving drugs, hand guns, domestic violence, DWI, sex offenses, felony, theft, and assault.