The Law of Self-Defense in Maryland… and the Evidentiary Burden You Have to Clear to Obtain a Jury Instruction on Self-Defense

The law of self-defense has been in the news a lot lately… especially to our south. While cases in Maryland that involve arguments of self-defense may not grab as many headlines as those in other states, they are no less important, especially for the person on trial. Getting the maximum usefulness from your self-defense arguments is something that requires an in-depth knowledge of Maryland criminal law, so don’t head into your criminal case unprepared. Instead, protect yourself by retaining an experienced Maryland criminal defense lawyer.

When it comes to self-defense in Maryland, a recent gunshot case is very instructive. That prosecution arose from a Dec. 1, 2018 dispute between two North Baltimore neighbors regarding ownership of two air conditioner units. In an unusual twist, each argued that they belonged to the other man.

K.B. testified that he stepped outside after M.P. threw one air conditioner onto his outdoor grill. When he did, M.P. allegedly “darted right inside his house” and immediately went for his gun. K.B. told his neighbor “you’re high. You need to go sleep it off.” K.B. turned to walk away, whereupon M.P. shot him in the leg, according to K.B.’s testimony.

M.P. testified that he merely slid the units off his property and onto K.B.’s. K.B. allegedly opened the door and swore at M.P., who began to explain himself. However, according to M.P.’s testimony, “before I could get everything out… he was on me. He swung at me.”

Allegedly knowing that K.B. was a skilled mixed martial arts fighter, M.P. went inside and grabbed his gun. Meanwhile, K.B,. was allegedly throwing the air conditioners at his neighbor’s front door. M.P. testified that he exited his home to investigate and K.B. attacked again, throwing punches. During this scuffle, the gun “went off” and struck K.B.

The state charged M.P. with a host of crimes, including reckless endangerment. At the end of the trial, M.P.’s legal team asked the judge to instruct the jury on the law of self-defense, but the judge declined and the jury convicted M.P. on reckless endangerment.

The state argued that the trial judge correctly refused to give the instruction because the defendant provoked the incident “by moving the air conditioners in the first encounter and by going back into his residence and arming himself with a handgun prior to the second encounter.”

You Only Need ‘Some’ Evidence to Be Entitled to Seek a Self-Defense Instruction

The appeals court, however, reversed the man’s reckless endangerment conviction. Even if all of the allegations regarding M.P.’s conduct and exacerbation of the situation were true, the defendant was still entitled to the jury instruction on self-defense that his attorney sought. In Maryland, the law says that to be entitled to a self-defense jury instruction, a defendant must only clear a very low hurdle. Back in 1990, the Court of Appeals expressly stated that a defendant need only present “some evidence” that supports the sought-after jury instruction. That court went on to clarify that it didn’t matter if “the self-defense claim is overwhelmed by evidence to the contrary. If there is any evidence relied on by the defendant which, if believed, would support his claim … the defendant has met his burden” and is entitled to the instruction.

In M.P.’s case, he testified that his neighbor was the initial aggressor by “taking a swing” at him after he slid the units onto the neighbor’s property. He also testified that he only armed himself with a gun and went back outside after he heard K.B. throwing the units into his front door. When he did, K.B. allegedly began punching M.P. in the head and trying to sweep M.P.s legs from beneath him. All of that, the appeals court recognized, was enough to amount to “some evidence” and entitle the defendant to an instruction on self-defense.

If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges in Maryland, be aware that this state allows you to deploy a variety of strategies, including the assertion of affirmative defenses like self-defense. To make sure your affirmative defenses, as well as the other aspects of your case, are as strong as possible, look to the experienced Maryland criminal defense attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC. Contact us today at 301-519-2801 or via our online form so that we can get started building a winning defense for you.

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