Maryland’s De Novo System

What is Maryland’s de novo system? It is a system that allows review of decisions rendered in courts of limited jurisdiction by a trial court of general jurisdiction. A defendant who is convicted in a District Court of Maryland can appeal the conviction de novo to a circuit court. The reason de novo appeals were originally allowed was to permit people who cannot afford a transcript of the record to have a member of the judiciary take a second look.

Allowing a trial de novo means that a criminal defendant is permitted a “new bite at the apple,” as if the charges hadn’t previously been heard and no decision had been made. The State must produce evidence as if it hadn’t already been produced.

In a recent case, a defendant exercised his de novo right, but was convicted again on the basis of evidence from the first trial. The defendant was convicted for the first time for second-degree assault after attacking someone in the elevator of his apartment building in Silver Springs. The victim testified that the defendant was already in the elevator when he entered the elevator. But before the victim could hit the button for his floor, the defendant punched his face and hit him. The victim, who was injured, next remembered getting up and looking for his wife. The police responded before the victim could call them.

Prosecutors charged the defendant with second-degree assault and reckless endangerment. At trial, the defendant testified and admitted to punching the victim. When he was convicted, the defendant exercised the right to have his case tried de novo in Circuit Court.

The defendant waived his right to a jury and asked the court to exclude the testimony that incriminated him in his jury trial. The court denied the request on the grounds that the de novo system didn’t require the court to ignore testimony properly given under oath in a District Court trial.

In the de novo trial, the victim identified the defendant as the attacker. The State moved to introduce a recording of the incriminating testimony. The defendant objected and invoked the Fifth Amendment. The court overruled the objection. However, the parties stipulated as to the existence of the testimony and that there was no self defense issue.

The Circuit Court found him guilty of second degree assault but acquitted him on the reckless endangerment charge. The defendant appealed the conviction and asked the appellate court to review whether his right to a de novo appeal of his District Court trial was violated because his incriminating testimony was admitted and whether his due process rights were violated when his testimony was admitted to evidence in the second de novo trial.

The defendant referenced his Fifth Amendment right to be free from compelled self-incrimination, his rights to counsel and his entitlement to due process in his argument to the appellate court. The only one of these he raised in the lower court was his Fifth Amendment right. Therefore, it was the only argument addressed by the appellate court.

The appellate court explained that the statement in the District Court was not protected from use by the de novo statutory scheme. A de novo appeal ignores the judgment below for the limited purpose of granting a second trial. The parties can still present the same evidence in the de novo appeal; only the judgment is new. Both parties can present new evidence if they wish. The factfinder must make a fresh determination either way.

The appellate court concluded that the Circuit Court was correct in ruling that the de novo proceedings did not entail ignoring the defendant’s admission that he assaulted the victim at the District Court level. If you are arrested or charged with a crime, it is in your best interests to consult an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney . Contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

More Blogs

The Voluntary Intoxication Instruction, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, June 25. 2013

Maryland Mother Loses Her Daughters, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, June 24, 2013


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