What is a Writ of Actual Innocence in Maryland?

A person convicted of a crime may file a petition for writ of actual innocence if there is newly discovered evidence that (1) creates a substantial possibility of a different result and (2) could not have been discovered in time to move for a new trial. The petitioner is entitled to a hearing on the merits when asking for this type of relief.

In a recent case a defendant challenged his conviction in connection with an attempted armed robbery. The case arose from 2-3 hours of ethnic conflict between a group of Hispanic American victims and a group of African American men. The victims were sitting in front of an apartment drinking beer, when the African American group confronted them. The Hispanic American group went inside and the African American men knocked to try to get in.

About a half hour later, the Hispanic American group went outside but encountered the African American group inside. The former went back inside and this time, the African American group tried to get inside. When the Hispanic Americans went outside again, the African American group once again confronted them. Though they all tried to get away, one of the men got shot. The wound was fatal.

The three men identified the men, including the defendant, from photographs. The defendant admitted to a detective that he and his friend had gone to the apartment building in order to rob “Hispanics.” He claimed another man was the shooter.

At trial, the defendant’s lawyer tried to impeach one of the men (Lucio) for committing a “prior bad act” of distributing cocaine, which has been held to be relevant to credibility. The State objected to the attempt to impeach because there had been no conviction. The defendant pointed out that the Maryland rules allow any witnesses to be examined about prior conduct that didn’t lead to a conviction but that might prove a character trait of untruthfulness. The Rule in question provides that there must be reasonable proof that the prior conduct occurred. In this case, there was a charging document, but there was no conviction.

The trial court sustained the State’s objection and stopped the defendant from impeaching Lucio. Extrinsic evidence is not allowed to impeach, and there was a danger that it would come into the questioning itself. The appellate affirmed this ruling.

However, later, the defendant petitioned the circuit court for a writ of actual innocence asserting that in 2011, he met an inmate at North Branch Correctional Institution who had reports regarding newly discovered evidence that mentioned the defendant. The defendant believed the results of his trial could have been different had the prosecutor not suppressed these reports. The circuit court issued an order denying the petition without a hearing.

The defendant appealed, arguing that the circuit court should have granted him a hearing. The appellate court disagreed, explaining that the petition must be in writing, state in detail the basis of the petition, describe the evidence, request a hearing and show how the newly discovered evidence is different from claims previously made. The court can dismiss a petition without a hearing, if the petition does not assert the basis for the relief and expressly request the hearing.

In this case, the appellate court did not think that the petition stated adequate grounds. It found that much of the “newly discovered evidence” was not actually newly discovered.

The defendant had relied on facts that happened after his trial, including an officer’s observations. They would have had no effect on the trial. The confidential informant had noted that he had seen Lucio dealing drugs. The defendant believed this was the evidence of a prior bad act that he could have used to impeach the witness’ credibility during his trial.

If you are arrested or charged with a crime, you should consult with an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney. We will develop the best strategy we can to defend your case. Contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

More Blogs

What Constitutes “Contempt of Court” in Maryland Criminal Court, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, December 12, 2013

Is Self-Defense an Available Defense in a Charge of Affray? Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, November 18, 2013


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