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Hall v. State

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

June 28, 2017


          Kehoe, Nazarian, Shaw Geter, JJ.


          Nazarian, J.

          Michael Hall, Tywan Cummings, and Daquawn Lubin were tried together and convicted in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County of first-degree burglary, first-degree assault, use of a firearm in a crime of violence, and related offenses. All three challenge a variety of the court's evidentiary decisions; Mr. Hall also contends that the trial court erred by failing to merge multiple convictions for conspiracy and denying his motion for mistrial, and Messrs. Cummings and Lubin argue that the evidence was insufficient to support their convictions. We hold that the trial court erred when it precluded defense counsel from introducing Raymond Clark's prior manslaughter conviction for impeachment purposes and in prohibiting the defense from cross-examining Mr. Clark and another witness about the conviction and their possible motives to lie. And after determining that the evidence was sufficient to convict Messrs. Cummings and Lubin, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On March 28, 2015, Janise Ray and Mr. Clark returned by car to their home in the Shady Side Garden Apartment Complex. They were arguing on the drive and arrived around 7:00 PM. Mr. Clark got out of the car first and headed to the apartment. Ms. Ray stayed behind.

         Several minutes later, Ms. Ray gathered all of the items in the car-including her purse, a pizza, a two-liter bottle of soda, and a brown bag that had been behind the passenger seat-and walked to the apartment. Along the way, she saw two men sitting on a bench, one of whom got up and walked in front of her toward her building. The other man got up and walked behind her, and then both men went down the stairs to the lower-level apartments while Ms. Ray walked up the stairs toward hers.

         When she got to top of the stairs, Ms. Ray turned around and saw the two men standing behind her. They wore black ski masks and held guns. The men motioned toward the door with the guns and told Ms. Ray to go inside. As one of them opened the door, the other pushed her inside and onto the couch. Ms. Ray screamed for Mr. Clark and curled up in a ball.

         Mr. Clark heard Ms. Ray's screams and ran into the living room, where he saw several masked men brandishing guns. Mr. Clark grabbed one of the men's arms and the two struggled over the gun, and Mr. Clark ultimately wrestled it away. Gunfire was exchanged, and one man (later identified as Dexter Manigault) was shot and fell to the ground. Mr. Manigault got back up, and he and the others made their way out the door as more shots flew. Police later recovered twenty shell casings from the apartment, as well as the gun that Mr. Clark claimed that he had taken from one of the attackers.

         Mr. Manigault was badly wounded from the gunfire, and he fell to the ground in the apartment complex's courtyard. Krystal Moon, a volunteer emergency medical technician who lived nearby, offered to render first aid and called 911. But the men ignored her offer and instead carried Mr. Manigault to a black SUV, loaded him in the backseat, and drove to a nearby fire station. They also dropped Mr. Cummings off at his home on the way. Once at the fire station, the men got out of the vehicle, and one yelled that "there was a guy shot from an attempted robbery." Mr. Lubin fled and was later apprehended by police. Mr. Manigault succumbed to his gunshot wounds. The other three, Messrs. Cummings, Lubin, and Hall, were arrested and tried together.

         At trial, Mr. Hall testified on his own behalf and Mr. Clark testified for the State. Mr. Hall testified that there was no attempted robbery, but that he and the other men went to the apartment complex to buy drugs from Mr. Clark, whom Mr. Manigault knew but the others did not. Mr. Clark was upset because Mr. Manigault had brought a stranger to his house, but Mr. Manigault "vouched" for Mr. Hall, and the three of them went inside to complete the drug transaction. The situation soured, though, when they made the exchange. Mr. Manigault gave Mr. Clark $1,200, $800 of which was counterfeit; in return, Mr. Clark handed Mr. Manigault a brown paper bag that he slid into the waistband of his pants. As Mr. Clark began counting the money, he realized some of it was counterfeit and started shooting. Mr. Manigault fell to the ground and fired back, and Mr. Hall began to run. But after realizing that Mr. Manigault was on the ground, Mr. Hall returned to help Mr. Manigault walk; this effort ultimately failed because Mr. Manigault was too badly wounded. Mr. Hall returned to the SUV and asked Mr. Lubin to help him carry Mr. Manigault to the vehicle. They then drove to a nearby fire station to get medical aid for Mr. Manigault, but stopped before arriving to let Mr. Cummings out.

         Before Mr. Clark testified, the State moved in limine to preclude the defense from impeaching him with his prior manslaughter conviction. Mr. Hall's attorney argued that the conviction was relevant for impeachment and for evidence of motive to fabricate a false story because Mr. Clark's conviction prohibited him from possessing a gun, and thus Mr. Clark had a motive to lie about the provenance of the guns involved in the incident. The court ruled that the conviction could not be used for impeachment because it was not an infamous crime and did not bear on Mr. Clark's credibility, and directed the defense to approach the bench before asking about it. As Mr. Hall's counsel prepared to ask Ms. Ray whether she knew that Mr. Clark was prohibited from possessing a gun, he asked to approach the bench and was told by the court that he could only ask Ms. Ray whether Mr. Clark had a gun, not whether she knew he was prohibited from having one. Later, when cross-examining Mr. Clark, Mr. Hall's attorney attempted to question him about the fact that he was prohibited from possessing a gun, and the court precluded any questions on the subject. At the conclusion of the jury trial, all three defendants were found guilty. This timely appeal followed.


         Some of the contentions in this consolidated appeal overlap and others are unique to each individual.[1] Messrs. Cummings and Lubin contend that the trial court erred by prohibiting the defense from using Mr. Clark's prior conviction for manslaughter for impeachment. Messrs. Hall and Cummings contend that the trial court erred in prohibiting their attorneys from cross-examining Ms. Ray and Mr. Clark about their common motive to provide false testimony. Mr. Hall contends separately that the trial court erred in permitting the State to cross-examine him about his pre-arrest silence, refusing to give a requested self-defense jury instruction, failing to merge multiple convictions for conspiracy when the State only offered proof of a single conspiracy, and denying his motion for mistrial. Mr. Lubin contends that the trial court erred by sentencing him for an offense for which he was not convicted and complains as well that the evidence was not sufficient to sustain his conviction. And Mr. Cummings contends that the evidence was not sufficient to sustain his conviction. As it turns out, we don't need to address all of these contentions.

         A. The Trial Court Erred When It Precluded The Defense From Impeaching Mr. Clark's Credibility With His Manslaughter Conviction.

         All three appellants contend, in slightly different ways, that the trial court erred by precluding them from introducing Mr. Clark's prior manslaughter conviction for impeachment purposes. The State doesn't dispute that the court erred in the way it characterized the conviction, but counters that the issue is not preserved because Messrs. Cummings and Lubin never joined in Mr. Hall's preliminary attempt to introduce the conviction, nor did they object to the court's ruling to exclude it. We hold that the issue is preserved because the trial court's categorical declaration that manslaughter is not an impeachable offense served as a final ruling on the matter and that the error compels us to reverse the convictions.

         1. The defense preserved its objections.

         Before Ms. Ray was cross-examined by the defense, and before Mr. Clark testified, the State moved in limine to exclude any reference to Mr. Clark's prior manslaughter conviction. The State argued that the conviction should not be admitted into evidence because it was not an impeachable offense, and the court agreed:

[THE STATE]: I know there is a prior conviction but not impeachable.
THE COURT: What is the prior conviction?
[THE STATE]: Manslaughter.
THE COURT: I think everyone probably is in agreement. If they ask something that you feel is inappropriate, just object.
[THE STATE]: Yes. I'm addressing it now because I would like to try to avoid the jury even hearing it.
[MR. HALL'S COUNSEL]: I do think in a way it is relevant in that -- I think some of the evidence will show, it is our theory that Mr. Clark actually had a firearm there that evening. He is prohibited from possessing a firearm because of the prior conviction. So to the extent that is -- that was the point I was going to try to make as a motive to lie about the firearm.
THE COURT: Even assuming all that is true, and I do. That is neither an infamous crime, nor a crime that would bear on credibility. The law says you can't do it. There is nothing inherently evil or wrong about it.
[MR. HALL'S COUNSEL]: Our position is that is why they are not saying that he used his weapon that evening. That is why they are making up this version of events to avoid responsibility for him admitting to having a firearm.
[THE STATE]: Again, I think that any mention of a prior conviction that is not a crime that goes towards moral turpitude or would be relevant for purposes of determining [credibility] should be prohibited. They should be prevented from mentioning it.
THE COURT: [Mr. Hall's counsel], if you feel it is relevant, if you decide you will inquire. Obviously you wouldn't be inquiring of this witness, would you, Ms. Ray?
[MR. HALL'S COUNSEL]: To the extent that I did think they are agreeing to make up a version of events. She, obviously, knows him and has known him for some time.
[THE COURT]: Ask to approach the bench before you ask any questions and I will rule, okay?

(Emphases added.)

          After the discussion of Mr. Clark's prior conviction, the State re-called Ms. Ray. Mr. Hall's counsel was the first on the defense side to cross-examine her, and, as instructed by the court, asked to approach the bench before asking about Ms. ...

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