The Appeals Court of Maryland Criticizes Both Prosecutors and Defense Counsel in an Assault Case Involving a Woman Having a ‘Mental Health Crisis’

Often, this blog focuses on some sort of success for an accused person, like getting crucial evidence suppressed because the search that yielded it was unconstitutional. Sometimes, though, matters that end with unsuccessful – and even unjust – outcomes deliver the most important lessons, like one recent assault case from Cecil County that highlights how important it is not just to have a defense attorney, but rather the right Maryland criminal defense lawyer.

The accused, A.R., was an Elkton-area woman with serious PTSD. After experiencing a startling event that triggered her PTSD, she armed herself with a gun and a knife and entered a nearby roadway on foot.

Law enforcement responded to the scene, swiftly deescalated the situation, and subsequently arrested the woman. At the station, the woman continued behaving erratically, including removing all her clothes, so the officers decided to transport her to a hospital. The woman, who was in the midst of a “mental health crisis” at all relevant times, fought with the officers both in the roadway and during her transfer to the hospital. She also kicked a sheriff’s vehicle.

Despite the mental health-related factors, the prosecution “threw the book at” A.R., initially charging her with 35 criminal counts. Due to multiple errors – including a Brady violation by the state – the appeals court tossed the first conviction.

The state retried the woman, again asserting multiples assault crimes and charges of resisting arrest. The prosecution secured convictions on eight counts. Again the woman appealed. This time, she lost. The appeals court, while sympathetic to A.R.’s situation – and disapproving of the way the prosecutors approached the case – said it was powerless to undo what had been done.

The appeals court acknowledged that, based on the evidence presented at the second trial, a reasonable factfinder could conclude that the woman did, in fact, resist arrest and commit various assaults on the officers, so the convictions necessarily had to stand. The opinion chided the prosecutors for over-charging and over-prosecuting the woman, resulting in an outcome that was neither “humane” nor “good.”

‘Inexplicable’ Failures by Defense Counsel Also Played a Role

However, one other vital element in the woman’s unfavorable outcome was her own legal team, according to the court. The appeals court critiqued the woman’s defense counsel for “inexplicably” failing to “develop the context for her reactions to the deputies, even in the form already admitted in the first trial.” In other words, the woman’s defense failed to put on sufficient evidence that expounded on the nature of her PTSD, and the role her PTSD (and the triggering event) played in fueling her actions, including her responses to the deputies. (This included failing to emphasize that, as a result of the woman’s mental health crisis, she did not understand that the people who confronted her — and whom she was battling — were law enforcement officers.)

The court also criticized the defense for failing “to cross-examine the deputies’ conflicting accounts of events between the two trials.” Certainly, exposing and highlighting that an officer (or officers) said one thing at the first trial and something different at the second could have had important value in terms of diminishing the officer’s (or officers’) credibility.

The defense also “never cross-examined the officers to challenge their assertions about her state of mind or her intentions,” the appeals court noted disapprovingly. While it’s impossible to know with certainty, it’s reasonable to surmise that different defense strategies might have yielded a more favorable result.

When you’re facing criminal charges, a great many things… right down to you basic freedom… may hang in the balance. With so much on the line, having the very best possible legal team is essential. If you’re facing charges or are under investigation, reach out to the knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC right away. Contact us today at 301-519-2801 or via our online form to set up your consultation so that we can get started protecting your rights and fighting for you.

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