The Legal Doctrine of ‘Merger’ Helps a Maryland Defendant Obtain a Re-Sentencing

In a criminal case, it is important to have skilled Maryland defense counsel on your side to help you make sure that you’ve advanced all available arguments regarding errors made by the prosecution and/or by the trial court in your case. Sometimes, the best possible outcome, if you’ve been convicted, is a reversal of that conviction. In other cases, the evidence is just too extensive, and a reduction of your sentence is the best possible result. Even if you can’t get a reversal of your conviction, that does not mean that your case is not still worth fighting for – it is. Sometimes, a successful argument seeking a reduction in a sentence may cut many, many years off the total time you might have otherwise spent incarcerated.

As an example of this notion, take E.B.’s case. The underlying event leading to E.B.’s trial was a domestic dispute. Based on the girlfriend’s statement to police, they obtained a search warrant for E.B.’s residence and, inside, they found the knife used in the alleged attack and some clothes E.B. allegedly cut off the girlfriend’s body during the dispute.

The state charged E.B. with first-degree assault, second-degree assault and reckless endangerment. During the state’s closing argument, the prosecutor referenced the knife and asked the jury, “Can you imagine being choked and having this thing put at your neck?” The jury convicted the man on both assault charges and the reckless endangerment charge.

E.B. appealed, arguing that the prosecutor’s argument in his closing was improper and that the sentence handed down was improper, as well. The Court of Special Appeals agreed that the prosecutor’s argument was improper. What the prosecutor did is called a “golden rule” argument. That means that the prosecutor “asks the jury to place themselves in the shoes of the victim.” These arguments are not allowed because they provide too much temptation for jurors to drop “their position of neutrality and decide cases on the basis of personal interest rather than the evidence.”

Unfortunately for E.B., that alone is not always enough for a reversal. Your appeal needs to convince the court that the erroneous argument was improper and that, without it, the outcome might have been different. Even without that closing argument, the prosecution’s case was very strong in the eyes of the appeals court, so reversal was not required.

However, reversal of E.B.’s sentence was required. In a criminal case, the prosecution has to show that you committed the required criminal act and had the required criminal intent. In certain circumstances, the criminal intent for one crime can “ripen” into the intent to commit another crime, such as reckless endangerment and first-degree assault. When that is true and the conduct that triggered the assault change was the same conduct as the reckless endangerment charge, then the two crimes are what’s called in the law “merged.” What this meant in a practical sense was that E.B. was entitled to be re-sentenced based solely on the first-degree assault and second-degree assault charges.

To get the effective defense representation you need for your criminal case, reach out to knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense attorney Anthony A. Fatemi, who has been providing helpful counsel 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:

Maryland Court Reviews Allegations of an “Illegal Sentence” in Criminal Case, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, Jan. 22, 2016

Maryland Court Upholds Decision Not to Merge Criminal Sentences, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, April 8, 2015


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