Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Shelton v. Maryland

On September 5, 2012, the Court of Special Appeals filed its opinion, by Judge Wright, in Shelton v. Maryland, No. 1240, September Term 2011.  The case arises from an undercover drug sting that resulted in Mr. Shelton's conviction  on one count of distributing a controlled dangerous substance, one count of conspiring to distribute a controlled dangerous substance, and one count of first-degree assault. But this isn't a criminal law blog, this is a blog about the Rules.  Of course Mr. Shelton appealed - and as any first year law student knows, appeals are about error.  As Judge Wright stated, Mr. Shelton asked the Court of Special Appeals to determine 

Did the trial court err in admitting a hearsay statement under Maryland Rule 5-803(a)(5), the co-conspirator exception, because the statements of the accomplice were not made in furtherance of the conspiracy? 

In this case, the defendant and the State were arguing over a recording taken by the undercover cop of his conversation with the woman who allegedly set up the sale while he was waiting for the sale to happen.  This recording included "a conversation in which they discussed [another alleged drug dealer's] outfit, how [the woman who set up the sale, Ms. Hosley] had quit using cocaine,  [the undercover cop's] purported drug habit, and [the alleged drug dealer's] supplier."

To reframe the issue, did the trial court err by admitting a recording of conversation between the undercover cop and the woman who allegedly set up the drug sale between the undercover cop and Shelton?

Hearsay is generally inadmissible as evidence.  However, Maryland Rule 5-803 makes some exceptions.  Specifically, 5-803(a)(5) allows "[a] statement by a co-conspirator of the party during the course and in furtherance of the conspiracy[]" to be admissible, even that such a statement is hearsay and the speaker is available.

Here, the State argues that the conversation between the woman and the undercover cop were in furtherance of the drug dealing conspiracy, while the defendant argues that the conversation was "idle chatter" not specifically intended to further the conspiracy.

The Court of Special Appeals rejected the defendant's assertion that the conversation was idle chatter, but instead concluded that Ms. Hosley's conversation with the undercover cop constituted "statements were in furtherance of the conspiracy because they assured [him] that the transaction was going as planned and were intended to assuage any concerns that [he] may have...."

This opinion illustrates how broadly the co-conspirator exception to the hearsay rule is treated.  This treatment is similar to the cases interpreting the underlying federal rule.

No comments:

Post a Comment