The law has some very clear and strict limitations on using what’s called “other bad acts” against a defendant in a criminal trial. The reason for this is very sensible: the interests of justice are not served if a jury decides to convict a person, not because the evidence proves the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, but because the jury hears about prior bad acts and decides that the accused is a bad person. Generally, a person’s other, unrelated bad acts from his past are not relevant to whether or not he committed the current crime, so they should not be admissible. When it comes to keeping out evidence that should not be admissible in your trial, be sure you have experienced Maryland defense counsel on your side to protect your rights.
Take, as an example, the case of N., who was out a bar in Baltimore one night in September 2014. An acquaintance managed to get thrown out of the bar by four employees, including two bouncers. Several people, including N., spilled outside and the bouncing turned into another fracas where the bouncers, according to N., attacked him. N. allegedly attempted to defend himself with a knife. One bouncer received a facial cut, the other was slashed in the throat. The second bouncer died.
The state charged N. with first-degree murder and first-degree attempted murder. At the trial, the prosecution played a statement in which N. admitted that he went to the bar that night intending to sell cocaine. The jury acquitted N. of the murder and attempted murder charges, but convicted him on two lesser charges.
N. appealed and won a new trial. He won based upon the prosecution’s use of that statement that the accused man made to police. The statement in question included a comment from N. that he just wanted to sell some drugs, make a living and didn’t want any trouble. The defense argued that this was inadmissible other-bad-act evidence. The prosecution argued that the defense counsel made the statement admissible when she argued that N. was in the bar to market his tattoo business.
This argument by the prosecutor is what’s called “opening the door,” which you may have heard in various courtroom TV shows. There are certain types of evidence that, by themselves, are inadmissible but, depending on what evidence the other side offers, can become admissible. For example, a prosecutor cannot, on his/her own, present evidence tending to show that the defendant is a notorious liar. However, if the defense offers evidence tending to demonstrate what a truthful person the defendant is, then that may “open the door” for the prosecution’s evidence of the defendant’s untruthfulness. (This, by the way, is just one of many examples of potential “traps” for the unwary in criminal trials, and serves as another reason why it helps to have skillful and experienced defense counsel.)
In this case, the defense lawyer’s statement didn’t open the door. The statement about the defendant’s tattoo business was not enough to allow the state to bring in evidence about the accused’s drug dealing. Furthermore, the defense lawyer made the statement in her opening statement and opening statements are not evidence.
When you are facing felony criminal charges, you very freedom may be on the line. Be sure to retain skilled counsel to handle your defense. Experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney Anthony A. Fatemi has been providing effective defense representation for the accused in Maryland for many years. To learn more, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.
More blog posts:
How the Rules of Evidence Can Help You Keep Some Damaging Testimony out of Your Maryland Criminal Trial, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, March 30, 2018
Highest Court in Maryland Reviews Motion to Suppress in Criminal Wiretapping Case, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, April 8, 2016