Argued: January 8, 2016
Circuit Court for Washington County Case No. 21-K-13-048610
Barbera, C.J., [*] Battaglia, Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Watts, Hotten, JJ.
In this case, we address the rule requiring corroboration of a defendant's extrajudicial confession, as well as what permissible inferences a fact-finder may deduce based on testimony from a non-party witness in the event the fact-finder disbelieves that testimony.
Quentin Anthony Grimm ("the alleged victim" or "Quentin") moved in with his biological father, John Grimm, and his stepmother, Angela Ann Grimm ("Petitioner"), in 2009 when Quentin was sixteen years old. In early 2013, a deputy assigned to a local high school came into possession of an anonymous letter that raised concerns about the relationship between Quentin and Petitioner. At this time, Quentin was nineteen years old. The letter was turned over to Detective Casey Nogle of the Washington County Sheriff's Office. Detective Nogle initiated an investigation and interviewed Quentin. That conversation prompted further concerns. Detective Nogle called Petitioner, and requested she come to the Sheriff's Office for an interview.
On February 6, 2013, Detectives Nogle and Jared Barnhart interviewed Petitioner. The session was audio and video recorded. When Detective Nogle showed Petitioner the anonymous letter, she immediately confessed that she did not know the paternity of her two year old son, Logan. Petitioner admitted that she had had a sexual relationship with her stepson, which began shortly after he moved in when he was sixteen years old, and that the relationship ended a couple months prior to the interview. As a result of that relationship, Petitioner stated that she was unsure of the paternity of her two youngest children, but that she suspected Quentin was Logan's father. Petitioner further confessed that she had sexual intercourse five to ten times with her stepson. The detectives provided Petitioner with several pages of Facebook communications between Quentin and "Faith Evans." When asked whether Petitioner was Faith Evans, she responded affirmatively.
The Circuit Court for Washington County ("Circuit Court") returned an indictment against Petitioner charging her with, among other things, three counts of sexual abuse of a minor pursuant to Md. Code (2002, 2012 Repl. Vol.), § 3-602 of the Criminal Law Article.At trial, the State offered into evidence the testimony of Detective Nogle and Quentin as witnesses, and Petitioner's recorded confession. Detective Nogle discussed his investigatory process, which resulted in Petitioner's confession on the day of the interview. The State immunized Quentin and obtained a court order compelling him to testify in the State's case. On direct examination, Quentin answered a few preliminary questions, but when asked about pertinent details of the investigation, including whether he had ever had a sexual relationship with Petitioner, he responded that he did not recall the details or events. Defense Counsel elected not to cross-examine Quentin. When the State rested its case in chief, Defense Counsel moved for a judgment of acquittal. The Circuit Court denied Petitioner's motion. The Defense Counsel rested, and, at the end of the introduction of all the evidence, renewed the motion for a judgment of acquittal. The motion was again denied, and, after closing arguments, jury deliberations began. Petitioner was convicted of two of the three counts of sexual abuse of a minor. Petitioner appealed to the intermediate appellate court. In an unpublished opinion, the Court of Special Appeals affirmed the convictions. We granted Petitioner's petition for a writ of certiorari. Grimm v. State, 444 Md. 638, 120 A.3d 766 (2015). For the reasons explained below, we hold there was insufficient evidence to sustain the convictions, because the rule of corroboration of an extrajudicial confession was not satisfied. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
In 2009, Quentin moved in with his father, John, stepmother, Petitioner, and brother, Derrick. At this time, Quentin was sixteen years old. In early 2013, Troy Lipenski, a deputy assigned to a local high school as a School Resource Officer, contacted Detective Nogle, and released to him an anonymous letter, which raised concerns about the nature of the relationship between Quentin and Petitioner. Further concerns were raised when Detective Nogle spoke with Quentin about the anonymous letter. This prompted the detective to continue the investigation, and he called Petitioner in order to arrange an interview at the Sheriff's Office.
On February 6, 2013, Detectives Nogle and Barnhart conducted the interview. After being read her Miranda rights, Petitioner signed a Miranda waiver, and consented to the session being audio and video taped. Preliminary questioning revealed that Petitioner, in addition to her stepson, had three biological children with her husband, Mr. Grimm: Derrick, age thirteen; Logan, age two; MacKenzie, seven weeks old. After being shown the anonymous letter, Petitioner confessed that she previously had sexual intercourse with Quentin five to ten times, beginning when he was sixteen years old. She stated that their relationship ended a few months before the date of the interview; Quentin was nineteen years old at this time. Petitioner further confessed that she was unsure of the paternity of her two youngest children, but that she suspected Quentin was Logan's father. When the detectives showed Petitioner fourteen pages of Facebook communications between Quentin and "Faith Evans, " she admitted that Faith Evans was her Facebook alias. Specifically, Petitioner stated that Faith Evans was the name "we were going to name Logan if it was a girl. So we made it up."
The State filed an indictment in the Circuit Court. Petitioner was charged with three counts of sexual abuse of a minor by a household member under § 3-602(b)(2) of the Criminal Law Article, and two counts of third degree sexual offense pursuant to Md. Code (2002, 2012 Repl. Vol.), § 3-307 of the Criminal Law Article.
The case proceeded as a trial by jury. The State entered nolle prosequi to the two counts of third degree sexual offense. At trial, the State called Detective Nogle as a witness, and he testified about his investigation. He explained how he came into possession of the anonymous note, and that the content of the letter prompted him to speak with Quentin. That conversation, in turn, caused him to investigate further. He stated that on the day of the interview, he and Detective Barnhart read Petitioner her Miranda rights, obtained a Miranda waiver, and her consent to record the interview. A portion of the audio and video recording of Petitioner's confession was then played for the jury. The recording was stopped at the point when Petitioner was questioned about the Facebook communications. On cross-examination, Detective Nogle stated that he did not request a search warrant to obtain a paternity test, because Petitioner admitted that she did not know the paternity of Logan. On redirect, Detective Nogle stated that paternity was not an element of the crime of sexual abuse of a minor.
The State called Quentin as its next witness. In preliminary questioning, Quentin stated that he moved in with his father and Petitioner in the Fall of 2009. He also identified Petitioner as his stepmother. In pertinent part, the following colloquy ensued between the State prosecutor and Quentin:
Q. Now, after moving back to Maryland into a residence with the Defendant and other persons did there come a time when you began a relationship, sexual relationship, with Angela Grimm?
A. I don't remember.
Q. You don't remember anything?
Q. Okay. Well do you remember speaking with Detective Nogle and Detective Barnhart earlier this year?
Q. You don't remember that?
Q. Do you remember telling them you thought Logan was your child?
Q. Okay. But you remember Logan, right?
Q. Who is Logan?
A. My little brother.
Q. Okay. So now he's your little brother and earlier this year he was possibly your son. Is that what you said?
A. No, I don't remember saying that.
Q. So, the only answers you're going to give today is you don't remember anything about your relationship with Angela Grimm back in 2010, 2009, [and] 2011?
Q. Have you ever had sexual intercourse with Angela Grimm?
A. No, I don't remember.
Q. You said no. Is that – – You never had sexual intercourse with Angela Grimm?
A. I don't remember.
Q. Mr. Grimm, are you telling us the truth today?
Q. Um hum. Court's indulgence. How would you describe your relationship with Angela Grimm?
A. I don't remember
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Q. What's your relationship with Angela Grimm ...