Thursday, October 4, 2012

Jackson v. Maryland

On September 5, 2012, the Court of Special Appeals filed its opinion, by Judge Hotten, in Jackson v. Maryland, No. 1159, September Term 2011.  The case arises from the conviction of Mr. Jackson related to a home invasion and murder in Prince George's County, Maryland.  Like many, many murders and other violent crimes, the genesis of this crime was in drugs.  Specifically, Appellant Jackson and Jamar Jones broke into a stash house, robbed it, ran into three people, and turned seriously violent.   

After being arrested, Appellant Jackson retained counsel.  Of course, no attorney could represent both Mr. Jackson  and Mr. Jones ethically given the facts of this case.  The day after the robbery and murder, Mr. Jackson drove Mr. Jones to his attorney's office, where Mr. Jones, at the time seemingly unrepresented, proceeded to give a statement to Mr. Jackson's attorney that Mr. Jackson was not present at the time the crimes were committed, and that Mr. Jackson committed the crimes.  Mr. Jones's attorney hand wrote Mr. Jackson's statement, which Mr. Jackson then reviewed and signed.  A law clerk was also present when the statement was given.  The law clerk thought Mr. Jones's actions were "very odd."  The law clerk also testified that the statement was drafted as a "give and take" with counsel, and not a transcription of a statement orally given by Mr. Jones.  

Essentially, Mr. Jones's story is that a third person, "Darren Johnson" and Mr. Jones broke into the stash house, but the shooting was in self-defense and Mr. Jackson was not present.  

On appeal, the issue presented was whether the circuit court "erred in disallowing a written statement of an unavailable declarant, when the appellant sought its admittance as a declaration against penal interest pursuant to Rule 5-804(b)(3)."  In other words, whether the circuit court erred by disallowing Mr. Jones's  statement to be entered into evidence.

Rule 5-804(b)(3) states that "[a] statement which was at the time of its making so contrary to the declarant's pecuniary or proprietary interest, so tended to subject the declarant to civil or criminal liability, or so tended to render invalid a claim by the declarant against another, that a reasonable person in the declarant's position would not have made the statement unless the person believes it to be true.  A statement tending to expose the declarant to criminal liability and offered in a criminal case is not admissible unless corroborating circumstances clearly indicate the trustworthiness of the statement."

In Jackson, Mr. Jones was unavailable because he invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to testify at Mr. Jackson's trial, as his testimony could serve to incriminate him.  While the parties agreed that Mr. Jones was unavailable, the State sought to exclude Mr. Jones's statement as lacking reliability and not truly being against Mr. Jones's penal interest.  

Judge Hotten agreed that the trial court did not err in finding that the statement illustrated "insufficient indicia of reliability."  As noted above, the fact surrounding the creation of the statement are odd, to say the least.  Further, the Court of Special Appeals noted that Mr. Jones's "self-defense claim weighs against his

statement being trustworthy and exhibiting necessary corroboration."  The Court noted that the thrust of the statement was exculpatory to Mr. Jones, as he was claiming self-defense, and Mr. Jackson's absence was merely an aside.  Further the Court found that "the circuit court properly found the entire statement to be unreliable, untrustworthy, lacking corroboration, and, thus, inadmissible."

No comments:

Post a Comment