Sweating the Small Stuff: How Seemingly Little Details Can Make a Big Difference in Your Maryland Criminal Case

In a criminal case, the difference between success and defeat can sometimes be something clear-cut, like a corroborated alibi. Often, though, a successful defense can be a result of something that might seem, to a layperson, to be small. An example of that occurred recently, when a man arrested and tried in Charles County got his conviction reversed because the crime for which the state convicted him was not the same crime that the state charged in the man’s indictment.

The defendant was a passenger in a car, allegedly heading to a store for milk and food, when a Charles County law enforcement officer stopped the vehicle for speeding. The officer searched the vehicle and found two guns. The defendant asserted ownership of one of the guns, a 9mm semi-automatic.

The state indicted the defendant on three charges. Eventually, though, only one charge remained, which was wearing, carrying, and transporting “a handgun upon or about his person, in violation of Criminal Law Article, Section 4-203.” After both sides rested their cases, though, the prosecution asked the trial judge to read to the jury an instruction from the Pattern Jury Instructions that corresponded to “carrying or transporting a handgun in a vehicle while on a public” road or highway.

The jury convicted the man. On its form, the jury indicated that they were finding the man guilty of wearing, carrying, or transporting a handgun in a vehicle. An order signed by the trial judge later indicated that the man was convicted of wearing, carrying, or transporting a handgun in a vehicle.

The defendant appealed, and he won. The flaw with this case that produced the reversal of this conviction might seem minute, but it was massive for this defendant. Across the course of this case, the state ended up charging the man with one crime and then convicting him of another that the state had never charged.

Wearing, carrying, or transporting a handgun upon or about one’s person is a completely separate crime from wearing, carrying, or transporting a handgun in a vehicle. One is a violation of Section 4-203(a)(1)(i) of the Criminal Law Article. The other is a violation of Section 4-203(a)(1)(ii). Even though the two crimes carry with them identical penalties, they are definitely not identical because each one contains elements that are distinct from the other.

The state argued unsuccessfully to the appeals court that, since the indictment referenced Section 4-203 generally, the conviction under Subsection (a)(1)(ii) could stand. The court explained that the key isn’t what the state puts in the caption or which statutory section it cites, but “what is stated in the body of an indictment.” The body of this defendant’s indictment stated that he “unlawfully did wear, carry and transport a handgun upon or about his person.” By convicting him of wearing, carrying, or transporting a handgun in a vehicle, the state convicted this man of a crime for which he was not charged. This was a “sheer denial of due process” and required the reversal of the man’s conviction.

In your criminal case, you need defense counsel who knows how to spot all of the issues, both great and small. Skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney Anthony A. Fatemi has been helping people accused of crimes in this state pursue justice for many years. Contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form to find out how our team can help you.

More blog posts:

Maryland Court Rules Second Indictment Violates Double Jeopardy Clause, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, Feb. 18, 2016

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

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