Krauser, C. J., Woodward, Salmon, James P. (Senior Judge,
Specially Assigned), JJ.
in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City convicted Larry
Jackson, appellant, of second-degree assault following a
domestic dispute at the home occupied by his girlfriend and
her family. The court sentenced appellant to a term of
imprisonment of ten years. Appellant presents three questions
1. Did the court err in admitting other crimes evidence and
other irrelevant and unfairly prejudicial evidence?
2. Did the court abuse its discretion in denying
appellant's mistrial motion?
3. Did the court improperly consider a murder charge for
which appellant had been acquitted, in imposing sentence?
reasons that follow, we answer these questions in the
negative and affirm.
September 1, 2014, Tiffani Wilson hosted a birthday party for
her husband, Javon Evans, at their home at 1816 McCulloh
Street in Baltimore, Maryland. Several family members were in
attendance, including Tiffani's daughter and Evans's
stepdaughter, Shakeara Wilson. Shakeara lived in the basement
of the home with her boyfriend, appellant. At this time,
Shakeara was five or six months pregnant with a child
conceived with appellant. When the festivities concluded
around 11:00 p.m. or midnight and party-goers had gone home,
Tiffani was cleaning up on the main floor. Evans had gone
upstairs to the bedroom, and Shakeara was in the basement
testified that she and appellant began to argue, which led to
a fight, which Shakeara described as "words and
pushing." After some mutual pushing, appellant
"restrained" Shakeara by grabbing her around the
throat, but "didn't squeeze." When appellant
released Shakeara, she ran upstairs to get Evans.
observed that Shakeara was upset when she came upstairs; she
was "hollering and screaming, " crying, and saying
"Larry" repeatedly. According to Tiffani, Shakeara,
Evans, and Tiffani went down to the basement to confront
approached appellant and said, "Didn't I tell you
about putting your hands on my daughter" before punching
appellant. In response, appellant pulled out a gun and fired
it into the ceiling.
testified that after this incident, she went upstairs to keep
others from coming down to the basement. Later, she observed
that Shakeara had a "swollen and red" eye, like she
"had a blood clot." When Tiffani asked Shakeara
about her injuries, Shakeara stated that appellant punched
her in the face and stomach before leaving the house.
contrast, Shakeara testified that, when Evans and Tiffani
went downstairs to confront appellant, she remained upstairs
and could hear arguing. Shakeara stated that she never saw
anyone with a gun, nor did she hear a gunshot. Shakeara's
taped statement to police was played for the jury. In that
taped statement, Shakeara stated that she heard her mother
say, "oh you got a gun" meaning appellant, and
Shakeara heard a shot go off. During the interview, a
detective asked Shakeara, "did you pass out when you
were choked?" Shakeara responded "borderline."
Shakeara stated that, as she was breaking free from
appellant, she "felt herself going out a little bit,
" but she was able to run upstairs and tell Evans.
Shakeara further stated that appellant punched her in the
face at some point before leaving the house.
record is unclear as to how the police were summoned to the
Evans/Wilson residence. Nevertheless, Officer Joseph Banks
Jr., from the Baltimore City Police Department, responded to
the residence and assisted in the investigation of the
incident. Officer Banks interviewed Shakeara, who stated that
appellant hit her.
Valencia Vaughn from the Baltimore City Police Department
later executed a search warrant at the residence, and a gun,
shell casing, cell phone, and wallet were recovered. Tassew
Mekuria, a technician with the Baltimore Crime Laboratory,
recovered the gun from the third floor bedroom. Tiffani
testified that she found that gun by the back door and asked
Evans to take it upstairs. She stated that the recovered gun
was not the one appellant had used in the September 1st
incident. Tiffani had intended to turn it over to the police,
but the police searched the house before she had the
opportunity to do so. The gun had Evans's DNA on it, but
also noted that the ceiling in the basement had a bullet hole
in it, but he was unable to recover the bullet. He did,
however, recover a shell casing from the basement floor.
Christopher Faber, a firearms examiner with the Baltimore
City Police Crime Lab Mobile Unit, was accepted as an expert
in firearms and tool mark identification. Faber examined the
recovered gun and shell casing. He testified that the
recovered gun was a Taurus PT908 9mm handgun, and the
recovered shell casing had been fired from a 9mm handgun.
Faber opined, however, that the shell casing did not come
from the recovered gun. He testified that another 9mm
semi-automatic handgun was used to fire it.
continuing the investigation, the police were unable to find
another handgun. Detective Vaughn interviewed appellant, and
he admitted assaulting Shakeara. The prosecutor played
portions of this interview for the jury. Appellant denied any
knowledge of a handgun, however.
facts will be included as needed in the discussion below.
contends that the court committed several evidentiary errors
in the course of the trial. First, appellant contends that
the court erred in admitting three pieces of evidence in
violation of Maryland Rule 5-404(b). These three pieces of
evidence were testimony: (1) from Tiffani that appellant and
Shakeara had a "violent" relationship; (2) from
Tiffani as to an incident wherein appellant "knocked
[Shakeara's] bottom tooth out" with a phone; and (3)
from Shakeara, during her redirect examination, that
appellant had assaulted her before. Appellant contends that
the above testimony did not fall into any exception of Rule
5-404(b) and also had no probative value.
State argues that evidence of appellant's prior conduct
with his girlfriend -domestic abuse - is probative of his
motive, which is a recognized exception of Rule 5-404(b). If
the court erred in admitting this testimony, however, the
State argues any error was harmless, because appellant
admitted to striking Shakeara, the photographs depicting
Shakeara's injuries were admitted into evidence, and the
jury convicted appellant of second-degree assault instead of
5-404(b) provides: "Evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or
acts . . . is not admissible to prove the character of a
person in order to show action in conformity therewith. Such
evidence, however, may be admissible for other purposes, such
as proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, common
scheme or plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or
accident." Md. Rule 5-404(b). Ordinarily, we review the
trial court's evidentiary rulings for an abuse of
discretion. See Wilder v. State, 191 Md.App. 319,
335, cert. denied, 415 Md. 43 (2010).
other crimes evidence, however, the Court of Appeals has
established a three-part test for its admission:
When a trial court is faced with the need to decide whether
to admit evidence of another crime - that is, evidence that
relates to an offense separate from that for which the
defendant is presently on trial - it first determines whether
the evidence fits within one or more of the Ross
[v. State, 276 Md. 664 [ ] (1976)] exceptions. That
is a legal determination and does not involve any exercise of
If one or more of the exceptions applies, the next step is to
decide whether the accused's involvement in the other
crimes is established by clear and convincing evidence. We
will review this decision to determine whether the evidence
was sufficient to support the trial judge's finding.
If this requirement is met, the trial court proceeds to the
final step. The necessity for and probative value of the
other crimes evidence is to be carefully weighed against any
undue prejudice likely to result from its admission. This
segment of the analysis implicates the exercise of the trial
Snyder v. State, 361 Md. 580, 603-04 (2000)
(citations and internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting
State v. Faulkner, 314 Md. 630, 634-35 (1989)). In
the instant case, appellant finds fault with the trial
court's determinations as to the first and third elements
of the three-part test.
is a recognized exception to the general rule against
admission of other crimes evidence. See Md. Rule
5-404(b). The Court of Appeals has defined motive as
"'the catalyst that provides the reason for a person
to engage in criminal activity.'" Ayala v.
State, 174 Md.App. 647, 658 (2007) (quoting
Snyder, 361 Md. at 604), cert. denied, 401
Md. 173 (2007). "To be admissible as evidence of motive,
however, the prior conduct must be committed within such
time, or show such relationship to the main charge, as to
make connection obvious, . . . that is to say they are so
linked in point of time or circumstances as to show intent or
motive." Snyder, 361 Md. at 605 (ellipses in
original) (internal quotations marks omitted).
Court of Appeals has held that "[e]vidence of previous
quarrels and difficulties between a victim and a defendant is
generally admissible to show motive." Snyder,
361 Md. at 605. For example, in Jones v. State, the
State sought to admit evidence that Jones had committed
violent acts against his wife during the course of the
marriage in his trial for her murder. 182 Md. 653, 657
(1944). The Court noted: "[T]here was almost a
continuous state of hostility between them. These other
crimes of the accused, having been committed on the same
person, are so closely connected to the offense charged as to
be evidence as to the intent and motive of the accused in
this case." Id.
Snyder, where Snyder was on trial for the murder of
his wife, the Court held that the trial court had properly
admitted testimony of a physical dispute between Snyder and
his wife that occurred nearly a year before her murder, that
the couple had a "stormy" relationship, and a fight
the night before the murder during which Snyder said that his
wife was "a dead woman." Snyder, 361 Md.
at 608. The Court stated: "That evidence was probative
of a continuing hostility and animosity, on the part of
[Snyder], toward the victim and, therefore, of a motive to
murder, not simply the propensity to commit murder."
Id. at 608-09. Similarly, the Court held that the
trial court had properly admitted testimony from the
couple's daughter of prior instances of Snyder hitting
his wife. Id. at 609. Snyder argued that these past
episodes were too remote in time to the murder to be
relevant, but the Court held that "the incidents [which
occurred over a period of at least the previous thirteen
years] are logically related to motive 'to show that the
accused made declarations reflecting on his wife, the
deceased, to show a long course of ill treatment; to show
that they quarreled, [and] that he [ ] maltreated
her.'" Id. at 611 (quoting Jones,
182 Md. at 656-57); see also Stevenson v. State, 222
Md.App. 118, 148-50 (finding evidence that a witness observed
Stevenson argue with his wife a week before her death, that
the wife told the witness that Stevenson tried to force her
to have sex, and that the wife had a slap mark and other
bruises on her face two weeks before her death was admissible
to show motive), cert. denied, 443 Md. 737 (2015).
case, the challenged evidence is probative of appellant's
motive in that it shows a history of abuse by appellant of
Shakeara, similar to the properly admitted evidence in
Jones, Snyder, and Stevenson. It
is of no moment that those cases were for murder, and the
case at bar is for assault. The motive is the same: the
exertion of control over the victim through the perpetration
of a cycle of violence. Accordingly, the evidence of
appellant's previous history of abuse of Shakeara was
properly admitted as evidence of motive pursuant to Rule
the third element of the three-part test, we are not
persuaded that the court abused its discretion in admitting
the subject evidence. A court abuses its discretion where the
ruling "is 'well removed from any center mark
imagined by the reviewing court and beyond the fringe of what
that court deems minimally acceptable.'" Hebron
Vol. Fire Dep't, Inc. v. Whitelock, 166 Md.App. 619,
644 (2006) (quoting Rolley v. Sanford, 126 Md.App.
124, 131 (1999)). Stated another way, a court abuses its
discretion "'where no reasonable person would take
the view adopted by the [trial] court [ ] or when the court
acts without reference to any guiding rules or
principles.'" Nash v. State, 439 Md. 53, 67
(quoting North v. North, 102 Md.App. 1, 13 (1994))
(internal quotation marks omitted), cert. denied,
135 S.Ct. 284 (2014).
challenged evidence was clearly probative of appellant's
motive. We, therefore, disagree with appellant's
contention that this evidence had no probative value
whatsoever. Consequently, appellant has failed to convince us
that the trial court abused its discretion in determining
that the subject evidence's probative value was not
outweighed by the danger of undue prejudice.
the trial court admitted the subject evidence in error, any
such error is harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. In a
recording played to the jury, appellant admitted that he
struck Shakeara. The photographs of Shakeara's battered
face also were in evidence for the jury to review. Finally,
and most importantly, defense counsel repeatedly stated in
closing argument that "this is a second[-]degree
assault, " and told the jury "that conviction, if
you find one, should only involve second[-]degree assault,
because that's all that this is." The jury
apparently agreed with defense counsel's argument,
convicting appellant of one count of second[-]degree assault
and acquitting him of all other more serious charges.
Therefore, any testimony relating to appellant's prior
assaults on Shakeara could not have had any effect on the
of his case, appellant recalled Detective Vaughn to the
stand, and the following occurred:
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Detective Vaughn, if you could refer to
your progress ...