What Maryland Law Says About the Admissibility of an Accused Person’s Prior Bad Acts

In a Maryland criminal trial, a jury should only convict the accused if the prosecution has presented evidence proving the accused’s commission of that specific crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Often, the people on trial are folks without spotless records; they may have had multiple prior encounters with the criminal judicial system. Those facts alone don’t make them guilty, though those facts might tempt a jury to find that defendant guilty simply because the jurors decide they dislike the accused. If you’re someone with a criminal past who is on trial again, it is crucial to ensure that you get inadmissible evidence of your past excluded from your case. This is just one of many areas where it pays to have representation from an experienced Maryland criminal defense lawyer.

These limitations on what the prosecution can do are necessary to avoid confusing jurors, prejudicing them against the accused, and predisposing them to believe the accused is guilty. In other words, the evidence might lead the jury to convict just because they think the accused is a bad person, not because the state offered sufficient proof of the crime charged.

As an example, there’s the Maryland Supreme Court’s recent ruling in the case of F.B., a Baltimore man on trial for felony child abuse.

As part of its case against the man, the prosecution sought to introduce two previous instances of child abuse involving F.B. The state contended that the three incidents were so similar that they demonstrated a common modus operandi.

The trial court allowed the state to use one of the incidents. The jury convicted and sentenced the man to 40+ years. The man appealed but the appellate court sided with the state. Recently, though, the Supreme Court ordered a new trial. In reversing the man’s conviction, the high court’s decision provides useful reminders about the rules of evidence and the law of “other bad acts.”

When Prior Bad Acts Are (and Aren’t) Admissible

Maryland’s rules of evidence say that evidence of other bad acts is inadmissible to prove the “character of a person,” but is admissible to prove things like motive, opportunity, intent, a common scheme or plan, or the absence of mistake or accident.

Previous rulings from the high court have made it clear that, in Maryland, evidence of an accused person’s other bad acts is inadmissible to prove that the accused had a “propensity to engage in criminal or wrongful acts.” It is admissible if and only if three things are true. Those are that: “(a) the evidence is offered for a non-propensity purpose that is relevant to a genuinely disputed issue in the case; (b) the defendant’s involvement in the other bad acts is established by clear and convincing evidence; and (c) the need for and probative value of the evidence is not substantially outweighed by any unfair prejudice likely to result from its admission.”

The evidence in F.B.’s was inadmissible as proof of a modus operandi. The common elements were insufficiently unique or unusual to qualify as a criminal “signature.” As the court explained, “we cannot say that a reasonable person presented with the facts surrounding these two crimes — without knowing the identity of [F.B.] as the perpetrator of one of them and a suspect in the other — would have concluded that the same person likely committed both.”

Because the previous incident of child abuse lacked a permissible basis making it admissible, it should have been excluded. Its use against F.B. was a prejudicial error and required a new trial.

There’s a lot that goes into a successful criminal defense. One essential piece of that puzzle is getting evidence that the prosecution wants to use but is inadmissible under the rules excluded from your trial. Whether you’re facing a felony matter or misdemeanor charge, count on the experienced Maryland criminal defense attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC to provide you with the knowledgeable, zealous, and detail-oriented advocacy you deserve. Contact us today at 301-519-2801 or via our online form to set up your consultation.

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