When You Should (and Shouldn’t) Agree to an ‘Agreed Statement of Facts’ in Your Maryland Criminal Trial

Criminal cases involve a great deal of knowledge:  knowledge of the facts of the case, of the relevant laws, and of trial strategy. In some cases, making agreements with the prosecution and concessions in court can be beneficial to the overall advancement of your interests. In other cases, though, such choices can harm you if you want to contest those issues at a later point. A woman convicted of burglary found the Court of Special Appeals unwilling to hear her sufficiency-of-the-evidence arguments on appeal because the actions she’d taken in the trial court created a waiver of her right to advance this argument.

The accused person in this case, Maria Rippeon, was charged with first-degree burglary. Rippeon entered a plea of not guilty, and the case proceeded to trial. In many trials, the facts of the case are the things most hotly contested between the prosecution and the defense. In some cases, though, it may make sense for both sides to agree on what the facts were, which the law allows the prosecution and defense to do. That’s what happened in Rippeon’s trial. She and the prosecution reached an “agreed statement of facts,” upon which the case was submitted to the judge. The judge found the woman guilty.

The woman appealed, arguing that the evidence against her was not adequate to support a conviction of first-degree burglary. In Maryland, first-degree burglary is a breaking and entering into someone’s else dwelling “with the intent to commit theft or a crime of violence inside the dwelling.” The woman contended that the evidence was insufficient to prove that she entered the dwelling with the intent to commit a theft.

The appeals court, however, upheld the trial judge’s decision, refusing even to hear Rippeon’s appellate arguments. Why did the court affirm the trial judge without even considering Rippeon’s arguments? This decision came down to the legal principal of “waiver” and the woman’s decision to agree to the “agreed statement of facts.”

A waiver occurs in a legal matter when a person or entity engages in a particular action (or inaction) that results in a legal conclusion that this action or inaction has triggered a forfeiture of a particular claim or argument. In Rippeon’s trial, her attorney acknowledged that the witnesses in the case would testify to the facts in the manner that the prosecutor had indicated to the judge, and this testimony would include within it enough facts to make out a case of first-degree burglary. When her attorney did so, “Rippeon tacitly conceded, and conveyed to the court, that she possessed the requisite intent to commit theft.”

Once a defendant enters into the sort of “agreed statement” that Rippeon entered in her case, and also makes a concession such as was made before the judge, the defendant has waived her right to dispute those points later. Allowing defendants to make these agreements and concessions and then challenge them down the road would be unfair and improper. “Parties, as we have previously observed, are not permitted to ‘sandbag’ trial judges by expressly, or even tacitly, agreeing to a proposed procedure and then seeking reversal when the judge employs that procedure; . . . nor will they freely be allowed to assert one position at trial and another, inconsistent position on appeal,” the court disparagingly wrote in its decision.

The key to avoid finding oneself in the position Rippeon was in is to avoid entering into agreements, or conceding points, on matters you may want to contest later. Once you’ve waived something in your trial, there is not an option to “un-waive” it. Maryland criminal defense attorney Anthony A. Fatemi is an experienced practitioner with many years of experience getting results for those accused of crimes, and he can help you as you weigh these and other decisions in your criminal case. To put this office’s skills and resources to work for you, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

More blog posts:

Maryland Court Reviews Sufficiency of Evidence in Burglary Conviction, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, Oct. 22, 2015

Maryland’s Highest Court Disallows State’s Amendment of “Charging Document”, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, Sept. 11, 2015

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