Five months ago, I wrote about Porter v. State, 455 Md. 220 (2017), where a deeply divided Court of Appeals, in a 4-3 decision, held that a battered spouse may rely on the imperfect self-defense to stave off a first-degree murder charge, even in the absence of a contemporaneous threat to the defendant/battered spouse. In the view of the majority, the threat of inevitable harm can constitute a threat of imminent harm. But to the dissent, only a contemporaneous threat from the decedent can constitute a threat of imminent harm for purposes of either self-defense or imperfect self-defense.
Two months after the Porter opinion was rendered, the Court of Special Appeals decided Wallace-Bey v. State, 234 Md. App. 501 (2017), which was the first post-Porter reported appellate decision in Maryland to address battered spouse syndrome and imperfect self-defense. The Court, however, was not called on to assess the imminence of the threat to the defendant. Instead, the Court was faced with what it described as “the absurd position that the prosecution persuaded the trial court to adopt,” id. at 544, i.e., that any word emanating from the decedent’s mouth in the moments leading to when the defendant shot him to death – as well as any other words he uttered during the parties’ tortured and often violent relationship – constituted inadmissible hearsay. According to an exhaustive and biting opinion from Judge Kevin Arthur – an opinion which also serves as a comprehensive primer on the law of hearsay – the circuit court’s rulings were clearly wrong and just as clearly not harmless error. Judge Arthur’s opinion serves as a cautionary tale to trial lawyers – be careful espousing overly aggressive, and ultimately erroneous, legal positions, because what you might end up “winning” is reversible error. Or be careful what ruling you ask for, because you might just get it and might just have to live with the repercussions.
Editor’s note: The testimony of the Wallace-Bey trial, as detailed in the opinion by the Court of Special Appeals, contains graphic content that is now quoted or summarized below.
The Court of Appeals of Maryland added eight cases to its merits docket today. Expert standards have been a hot topic as of late, and today’s list includes expert issues in both civil and criminal cases. There are some nuts-and-bolts issues, like authentication rules and discovery sanctions. Not surprisingly, in light of a dissent by Judge Berger, the grants include the Kennedy Krieger Institute’s challenge to a negligence claim arising out of a lead paint study.
(We’ve been endeavoring to include links to any relevant Court of Special Appeals opinions, but it will take a little extra time because the “Search Site” feature on the judiciary’s website is still a bit wonky after last month’s launch of the redesigned site.) Read More…