When the State is — and Isn’t — Entitled to a Jury Instruction About Fleeing the Scene of the Crime in a Maryland Criminal Case

There’s so much minutia that goes into a truly proper and complete defense in a criminal case. Whatever the alleged crime, but especially if that crime is a major felony, a conviction has the potential to drastically alter your life for the worse. Don’t leave your future to chance; make sure that you have the right Maryland criminal defense lawyer on your side to protect you to the maximum extent possible under the law.

An attempted murder case from Baltimore is a good example of just how much procedural details may matter. The victim, E.T., was playing dice in Baltimore when he got into an argument with another man. After E.T. punched the man, that man left but returned one minute later, whereupon he chased and shot E.T., critically wounding him. Immediately after shooting E.T., the shooter fled. All of this was recorded on nearby video camera footage.

The state charged D.W. with the shooting, putting him on trial for attempted first-degree murder. D.W.’s defense was a straightforward one: he wasn’t the shooter. The prosecution asked the trial judge to give the jury an instruction on “flight.”

The Centrality of ‘Consciousness of Guilt’

That instruction informs the jury that a defendant’s fleeing the scene of a crime “is a fact that may be considered by you as evidence of guilt” as it may tend to show the defendant’s “consciousness of guilt.”

Generally, this instruction comes up in cases where the accused undisputedly fled the scene and the prosecution wants to use that fact to bolster its case of the defendant’s guilt of the alleged crime. D.W.’s case was different. His defense did not contest that the fleeing person shot the victim; his defense was that he was neither the shooter nor the person seen on the video fleeing from the scene of the crime.

Typically, in a case like D.W.’s, the court should refuse to give this jury instruction on flight, and using it may be considered an error that could get the conviction overturned on appeal. In a situation where the accused’s argument was that he was not the fleeing person, then the matter of “consciousness of guilt,” which is the central piece of the instruction, is not an issue.

To keep that instruction out of your case, however, you must be very, very specific about what you are arguing. As the court explicitly stated, “defense counsel must expressly and unambiguously state – prior to the jury charge – that the defense solely contests the identity of the defendant as the fleeing offender.” This can be done by a statement from the defense team or by a stipulation between the defense and the prosecution.

Neither of those happened in D.W.’s case. Without that express statement or stipulation, the trial judge retains the general discretion to give the jury the flight instruction, which meant that the use of the instruction in D.W.’s case wasn’t an error and he was not entitled to a reversal of his conviction.

D.W.’s case is an example of how every action taken or not taken can have massive implications on the ultimate outcome of your case. Sometimes something that seems incredibly small can ultimately have a huge impact. To make sure you have the best defense possible, rely on the experienced Maryland criminal defense attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC. To get started putting the power of this office to work for you, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

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