Argued: January 8, 2019
Circuit Court for Baltimore City Case No. 116111012.
Barbera, C.J., Greene, McDonald, Watts, Hotten, Getty,
Wilner, Alan M. (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned) JJ.
Malik Robertson ("Robertson") was involved in an
altercation at a residential area near Morgan State
University. The incident culminated in the stabbing death of
one of its participants. A jury in the Circuit Court for
Baltimore City found Robertson guilty of accessory after the
fact to murder, but acquitted him of first- and second-degree
murder and of carrying a weapon openly with intent to injure.
On appeal, the Court of Special Appeals held that the trial
court erred in permitting the State to question Robertson
regarding his participation in a previous, unrelated incident
during which a knife had been brandished ("previous
incident"), because the door had not been opened for
questioning by the State. The Court of Special Appeals also
held that, because the introduction of the previous incident
was not harmless error, Robertson's conviction for
accessory after the fact must be reversed and the case
remanded for a new trial. On appeal, the State presents the
following questions for our review:
1. What is the appropriate standard of review of a trial
court's ruling that a party has opened the door to
otherwise inadmissible evidence?
2. Applying the appropriate standard of review, did the
[Court of Special Appeals] err by substituting its judgment
for the trial court's determination that [Robertson] had
opened the door to otherwise inadmissible evidence?
reasons discussed infra, we find that application of
whether particular evidence may be admitted based on the
legal principle of "opening the door" is reviewed
de novo. We further conclude that defense counsel
opened the door, thereby enabling the State to question
Robertson regarding the previous incident. However, despite
the application of the open door doctrine, the State used the
evidence of Robertson's participation in the prior
incident in a manner that exceeded the scope of the doctrine.
Accordingly, we shall affirm the judgment of the Court of
evening of February 1, 2016, Robertson, then a student at
Coppin State University, was involved in an altercation
between two groups of men near the Morgan State University
campus. The fight concluded after one of the participants,
Gerald Williams ("the decedent"), was stabbed and
ultimately died from his wounds.
impetus for the fight began nearly a week earlier. Daequon
Gordon, a Prince George's Community College student,
purchased ten dollars' worth of marijuana from Brandon
Parker, a Morgan State University student. Gordon purchased
the marijuana with a counterfeit fifty-dollar bill and
received the marijuana and forty dollars in return.
Parker learned that the fifty-dollar bill was counterfeit, he
contacted Gordon and demanded his money back. A meeting was
arranged, and both Parker and Gordon showed up to the meeting
with friends. Among them was the decedent, who was one of
Gordon's friends, and Robertson, who was one of
Parker's friends. The subsequent details were in dispute
testifying for the State, contended that when the two groups
met that evening, he told Parker, "I got your money.
You'll have to take it from me. I'm not paying
you." Gordon then punched Parker, provoking a larger
fight among the group. As Robertson and others ran from the
area, the decedent collapsed and Gordon, observing that the
decedent was bleeding, called an ambulance.
State witness, Isaiah McClin, who fought as part of the
decedent's group, testified that "all hell broke
loose" after the groups met, and though he did not
recall who was fighting, he heard the decedent yell something
during the fight, shortly after which the fight abruptly
ended. Thereafter, McClin observed the decedent lying on the
ground and "bleeding out." Although McClin did not
see the stabbing, or observe Respondent in possession of a
weapon, he recalled Robertson and the decedent fighting at
Glenn, another witness for the State, testified that she
observed the altercation and never saw a large group fighting
with each other. Rather, Glenn testified, only Robertson and
the decedent were fighting. She stated that she saw the
decedent charge towards Robertson, and Robertson, in an
effort to "push forward toward him," stabbed the
decedent. Upon further examination, Glenn conceded that her
view of Robertson was not "that clear" and that she
only saw Robertson holding a knife after "[he] and the
denied stabbing the decedent and further denied having a
knife. He contended that he fought two men during the fight:
Mathew Agogo and McClin. Robertson also testified that he
heard the decedent say "I'm bleeding."
testified that after the men dispersed, he told his cousin,
Ron, who was also engaged in the fight, that they should
leave. Robertson got into Ron's car along with four of
their friends. One of the friends was Abayomi Akinwold.
the drive, Robertson testified that Akinwold was
"beating himself up" and had blood on his hand and
jacket. At one point, the car stopped, Akinwold exited, and
tossed a knife into a storm drain. The car subsequently
stopped at a friend's home, which Akinwold entered. When
Akinwold returned to the car moments later, his hands were
clean. Ron drove the friends to their respective homes,
leaving Robertson at his mother's house.
his arrest, Robertson was detained at the Baltimore Central
Booking and Intake Center. James Alston, who was also
detained at the facility on a probation violation, testified
that Robertson admitted that he had killed someone during a
fight. Alston denied receiving anything in exchange for his
testimony, but admitted that his probation violation had been
dropped prior to Robertson's trial.
in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City
beginning of the trial, Robertson faced charges of
first-degree murder, second-degree murder, and carrying a
dangerous weapon openly with intent to injure. At the end of
Robertson's case, at the suggestion of the court and with
agreement from counsel, an accessory after the fact charge
was added. The jury subsequently found Robertson guilty of
accessory after the fact to murder, but acquitted him of the
trial, the following colloquy occurred between Robertson and
his counsel during direct examination:
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Now did you ever get into any trouble as a
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Ever just stopped for some minor issue?
[THE STATE]: Again Your Honor, I'm going to object to the
leading nature of his questions.
THE COURT: Okay, I'm going to overrule that one. Go
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Thank you. Any kind of trouble when you
were a juvenile?
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: How about as an adult, when you turned 18?
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Ever even arrested for anything?
[ROBERTSON]: Never been arrested. This is my first time being