Television courtroom shows often include dramatic moments when lawyers object to the other side’s evidence and the judge issues a ruling. Of course, these shows are often oversimplified or fictitious and designed for good storytelling, rather than factual accuracy. In reality, would you know when, and how, to object to prosecution evidence that the state sought to bring against you? Would you know what to do if the trial judge wrongfully granted an objection regarding the evidence you sought to bring in? Knowing how to handle these situations and more are just a few examples of how it pays to have skilled Maryland criminal defense on your side.
An example of these types of evidence battles, and the importance they can have on an outcome, was a recent case from Cecil County. J.D. was a man facing some very serious felony charges. J.D. and Y.D. had become romantically involved and moved in together at J.D.’s Maryland home. The household included J.D., his three children, Y.D., her son and her daughter. In 2015, Y.D.’s daughter made allegations against J.D. of repeated instances of sexual abuse over a period of several years. She asserted that she did not come forward sooner because she feared physical harm to herself and she worried it would adversely affect her mother’s relationship with J.D.
At his trial, J.D. sought to put his son on the witness stand. The son testified that the alleged victim was a disciplinary problem at home did not like living under the rules that J.D. imposed. The son testified that, after an allegedly stolen cell phone, the alleged victim became angry with the disciplinary decision J.D. made and was “yelling and screaming and saying things that she could do that would get him in trouble.” The son also sought to testify that the alleged victim was argumentative and “would not tell the truth about certain things.”
After objections by the prosecution, the trial judge threw out the evidence about the alleged victim’s threats and her tendency to lie. The trial court eventually found J.D. guilty of sexual abuse of a minor.
The case went all the way to Maryland’s highest court, which ruled that J.D. was entitled to a new trial. J.D. should have been allowed to use as evidence the statements made by the son. The law allows a witness to give testimony about a “general behavior pattern” or general tendency to be untruthful. That’s what the son did in this case. He stated that the alleged victim had a propensity to be untruthful about certain things. He did not provide any specific instances of lying that would unduly prejudice the jury. His testimony about the alleged victim’s general tendencies was within what Maryland’s rules of evidence allow, according to the court’s opinion.
As for the son’s testimony about the alleged victim’s implied threat against J.D., the trial court was wrong to exclude it as hearsay. Some evidence that might otherwise be inadmissible hearsay evidence can be admissible if it is offered solely to diminish the credibility of a party or another witness. The thrust of the defense’s case was that the alleged victim was angry about living under J.D.’s rules and wanted to return to Pennsylvania, where she’d lived before J.D. and her mother moved in together. The son’s testimony about the implied threat wasn’t offered to prove that the alleged victim made the threat, but rather to diminish the alleged victim’s overall credibility as a witness. That made it admissible.
Because these two pieces of key evidence were wrongfully excluded, J.D. was entitled to a new trial.
With so much on the line, don’t go it alone. Get an experienced attorney to handle your defense. Skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney Anthony A. Fatemi has been providing effective defense representation 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:
When the Prosecution Can (and Cannot) use Opinion Evidence about a Witness’ Truthfulness in a Maryland Criminal Trial, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, August 2, 2018
Prosecution’s Evidence of Accused Maryland Man’s ‘Other Bad Acts’ Allows Accused to Get a New Trial, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, July 9, 2018