Reconsideration Denied October 8, 2019
Circuit Court for Baltimore County, Case No. 03-K-15-005488,
Paul J. Hanley, Judge.
by Jessica V. Carter, Asst. Atty. Gen. (Brian E. Frosh,
Attorney General of Maryland, Baltimore, MD), on brief, for
by Michael R. Braudes, Assistant Public Defender (Paul B.
DeWolfe, Public Defender of Maryland, Baltimore, MD), on
brief, for Respondent.
before: Barbera, C.J.,[*] Greene, McDonald, Watts, Hotten,
Getty, Alan M. Wilner (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned) JJ.
Md. 145] We are presented here with an opportunity to
reconsider Marylands common law accomplice corroboration
rule, which requires that accomplice testimony be
independently verified to sustain a conviction. For reasons
that follow, we abrogate the rule and hold that the jury,
after proper instruction about the possible unreliability of
accomplice testimony, is entitled to weigh the sufficiency of
such evidence without the need for independent corroboration.
First, though, we must apply the current accomplice
corroboration rule to resolve the present case. In doing so,
we affirm the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals, which
overturned Respondents conviction [466 Md. 146] based on the
lack of independent evidence that would corroborate the
Facts and Procedural History
The Underlying Incident.
4:30 a.m. on August 9, 2015, Sandeep Bhulais body was
discovered lying next to his vehicle, which was idling with
the doors ajar. Mr. Bhulai had been shot multiple
times— once in the head, once in the neck, once in the
chest, once in the left elbow, and twice in the left arm. The
police found 9-millimeter and .380 caliber cartridge casings
surrounding Mr. Bhulai. The police collected fingerprints
from Mr. Bhulais vehicle and a motor scooter that was found
near the scene.
investigation led police to six suspects: (1) Christian
Tyson; (2) Keith Harrison; (3) Kareem Riley; (4) Ramart
Wilson; (5) Michael Jobes; and (6) Hassan Jones, Respondent
here. Fingerprints from Harrison, Riley, Wilson, and Tyson
were discovered at the crime scene. Later that summer, police
arrested Harrison for marijuana possession and found a .380
caliber handgun that matched the one used in Mr. Bhulais
murder. After interviewing a few of the suspects who
implicated Jobes, police executed a search warrant on Jobess
home and found Mr. Bhulais cell phone. Cell phone locational
data placed phones related to all the suspects, except
Respondent and Tyson, near the scene of the murder on the
night in question. Respondent was implicated solely by the
accounts of Tyson, Riley, and Wilson. Wilson identified
Respondent in a photograph, which was allegedly taken on the
night of the murder, by writing Respondents nickname,
"Teefy," in front of Respondents
Md. 147] B. Respondents Arrest and Trial.
September 10, 2015, police arrested Respondent. Respondent
initially denied having a nickname, cell phone, and any
knowledge of the crime or the other five suspects. After
Respondents cell phone number was discovered in Jobess
phone and vice versa, Respondent conceded that he had a cell
phone and had the nickname "Teefy; " yet Respondent
continued to deny that he knew Jobes. Respondent was later
charged with first- and second-degree
murder, first-degree felony murder, use of a firearm during a
violent crime, conspiracy to commit armed carjacking, and
Respondents trial, Tyson, Riley, and Wilson testified
pursuant to plea agreements. Their testimony was consistent
and demonstrated that the group, including Respondent,
attended a party in Reisterstown and then an "after
party" in Woodlawn on the night of the murder starting
sometime around 9 p.m. The State entered into evidence a
photograph that Wilson testified was taken on his cell phone
sometime between 12:30 a.m. and 1:40 a.m. and depicted
Wilson, Respondent, and the rest of the group. Wilson
testified that after leaving the party, the group agreed to
go to Middle River to steal something. When they reached a
residential area, the group split up. Wilson further
testified that he, Riley, and Harrison attempted to steal a
motor scooter, but they were unable to trigger the ignition.
Wilson then helped Riley return to Rileys car because he was
"very intoxicated." Meanwhile, Harrison left to
reconnect with the others.
Bhulai was killed between 3:00 and 3:15 a.m. Tyson testified
about the murder. He said that the group, including
Respondent, forced Mr. Bhulai out of his car at gunpoint.
While holding Mr. Bhulai at gunpoint, Tyson took Mr. Bhulais
cell phone. Jobes, Harrison, and Respondent then shot Mr.
Bhulai multiple times. Immediately after the shooting, Jobes
took Mr. Bhulais wallet, and the group fled to Rileys car.
and Wilson, who remained in Rileys car during the murder,
both testified that they heard gunshots. Shortly thereafter,
the group returned and Harrison, Jobes, and Respondent [466
Md. 148] were all carrying handguns. According to Rileys
testimony, Respondent told him to "hurry up and get us
away from here, we just shot someone."
addition to the accomplices testimony, the State presented
testimony from detectives and forensic experts and offered
physical evidence. Although that evidence "generally
corroborated" the accomplices testimony regarding
their "movements and activities that
evening," none of the physical evidence (i.e.,
locational data and fingerprints) directly implicated
the State closed its case, Respondent moved for a judgment of
acquittal on all charges, arguing that the accomplices
testimony was not corroborated. The court denied the motion,
ruling that the photograph on Wilsons phone served as
independent corroboration. Respondent did not put on a
other instructions, the court instructed the jury that the
accomplice testimony must be independently corroborated. The
court read pattern instruction MPJI-3:1— Testimony of
Accomplice— set forth in the Maryland State Bar
Standing Committee on Pattern Jury Instructions, see
MPJI-Cr 3:11 Testimony of Accomplice, which, with the names
You have heard testimony from Christian Tyson, Kareem Riley
and Ramart Wilson who were accomplices. An accomplice is one
who knowingly and voluntarily cooperated with, aided, advised
or encouraged another person in the commission of a crime.
The Defendant cannot be convicted solely on the
uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice. You must first
decide whether the testimony of Christian Tyson, Kareem Riley
and Ramart Wilson was corroborated before you consider it.
Only slight corroboration is required. This means there must
be some evidence which you believe in addition to the
testimony of Christian Tyson, Kareem Riley and Ramart Wilson
that shows either, one, that the Defendant committed the
crime charged; or two, that the Defendant was
with others who committed the crime at or about the time and
place the crime was committed.
[466 Md. 149] If you find that the testimony of Christian
Tyson, Kareem Riley and Ramart Wilson has been corroborated,
you may consider it but you should do so with caution and
give it the weight you believe it deserves. If you do not
find that the testimony of Christian Tyson, Kareem Riley and
Ramart Wilson has been corroborated, you must disregard it
and may not consider it as evidence against the Defendant.
You have heard evidence that Christian Tyson, Kareem Riley
and Ramart Wilson have pleaded guilty to a crime arising out
of the same events for which the Defendant is now on trial.
The guilty plea of th[ese] witness[es] must not be considered
as evidence against this [D]efendant. You may consider the
testimony of a witness who testifies for the State as a
result of a plea agreement. However, you should consider such
testimony with caution because the testimony may have been
influenced by a desire to gain a benefit by testifying
against the Defendant.
the charges, the jury convicted Respondent only of conspiracy
to commit armed carjacking. Respondent then moved for a new
trial, again asserting that the accomplices testimony lacked
the requisite independent corroboration. The trial judge
again denied the motion and imposed a thirty-year sentence.
Respondent appealed, and a three-judge panel of the Court of
Special Appeals, in an unreported opinion, reversed the
judgment of conviction. The court held that the accomplices
testimony was not independently corroborated by other
evidence, leaving the remaining evidence legally insufficient
to sustain Respondents conviction.
panel of the Court of Special Appeals then suggested that
this Court might reconsider the accomplice corroboration
rule. Judge (now Chief Judge) Fader, writing on behalf of the
panel, expressed skepticism that the current rule strikes the
"best balance between the potential dangers of
accomplice testimony and its potential value." The Court
of Special Appeals hinted that this Court should consider
adopting a modified version of the common law rule for
accomplice testimony, [466 Md. 150] under which the jury
would decide how much weight to afford accomplice testimony,
guided by a cautionary instruction about the possible
unreliability of such testimony.
State filed a petition for a writ of certiorari, which we
granted. State v. Jones, 461 Md. 612, 196 A.3d 904
(2018). The State poses two questions for our consideration:
(1) Did the Court of Special Appeals err in determining that
Joness demonstrably false statements exhibiting a
consciousness of guilt about Bhulais murder were not
sufficient to corroborate the accomplices testimony and
therefore the evidence was not sufficient to convict Jones of
conspiracy to commit armed carjacking?
(2) In the alternative, should the accomplice corroboration
rule that a person may not be convicted on the uncorroborated
testimony of an accomplice be replaced or revised to allow
the factfinder to measure the weight of the evidence and
judge the credibility of accomplices, with appropriate
instruction about accomplice testimony?
reasons we shall explain, we hold that the Court of Special
Appeals did not
err in its application of the extant accomplice corroboration
rule. We further hold that the rule, as currently structured,
be abrogated. In place of that rule, we adopt today a new
rule that will no longer require that accomplice testimony be
corroborated by independent evidence to sustain a conviction.
We do so in exercise of our constitutional authority to
change the common law. Harrison v. Montgomery Cty. Bd. of
Educ., 295 Md. 442, 459, 456 A.2d 894 (1983). Indeed,
"we have never construed [the doctrine of stare
decisis ] to inhibit us from changing or modifying a
common law rule by judicial decision where we find, in light
of changed conditions or increased knowledge, that the rule
has become unsound[.]" Id.
Md. 151] A. Sufficiency of the Evidence of Independent
begin with the first question presented— whether the
Court of Special Appeals properly applied the current
accomplice corroboration rule to the facts of this case.
accomplice corroboration rule requires exactly what its name
suggests— that the State must present independent
corroboration of accomplice testimony to sustain a
conviction. See Williams v. State, 364 Md.
160, 179, 771 A.2d 1082 (2001) ("[I]n Maryland ... a
conviction may not rest on the uncorroborated testimony of an
accomplice[.]"); Collins v. State, 318 Md. 269,
280, 568 A.2d 1 (1990) ("The rule in Maryland [is] that
a person accused of a crime may not be convicted based on the
uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice[.]"); Lynn
McLain, Maryland Practice Series: Maryland Evidence State and
Federal § 300:6(b)(ii), at 372-75 (3d ed. 2013). The
rationale for the rule, the flaws of which we discuss below,
is to combat the possible untrustworthiness of accomplice
testimony because accomplices may lie to protect themselves.
See Watson v. State, 208 Md. 210, 217, 117
A.2d 549 (1955) (stating that accomplice testimony
"should be regarded with great suspicion and
caution" because an accomplice may be incentivized to
"shield himself from punishment" by blaming another
or seek "clemency by turning States evidence").
reviewing a lower courts application of the rule, we
evaluate whether "the corroborative evidence was legally
sufficient to warrant submission of the case to the
jury." Wright v. State, 219 Md. 643, 652, 150
A.2d 733 (1959). Our review is limited to ascertaining
whether there exists any independent evidence "tending
either (1) to identify the accused with the perpetrators of
the crime or (2) to show the participation of the accused in
the crime itself." Ayers v. State, 335 Md. 602,
638, 645 A.2d 22 (1994) (citation omitted); see also
Turner v. State, 294 Md. 640, 646, 452 A.2d 416
(1982) (holding that "evidence offered as corroboration
must be independent of the accomplices testimony"). The
corroborative evidence need only be "slight," but
it must establish "either of [those] [466 Md. 152]
matters" before accomplice testimony can be submitted to
the jury. Ayers, 335 Md. at 638, 645 A.2d 22. Our
review is not to be "confuse[d] [with] the admissibility
of evidence"; we are not concerned with whether the
accomplice testimony is "admissible substantively"
but rather whether that evidence, once admitted, is
sufficiently corroborated to "sustain a
conviction." Turner, 294 Md. at 646, 452 A.2d
Respondent was convicted of conspiracy to commit armed
carjacking, based solely on the accomplices testimony. That
conviction can be sustained only if there was evidence
offered at trial that either connected Respondent to the
others who agreed to commit the crime in proximity to the
time and place it occurred or showed that he conspired with
one or more of
them to commit that crime. The State insists that such
evidence was presented. We disagree.
ruling upon the motion for judgment of acquittal at trial,
the court relied solely on the group photograph taken on
Wilsons cell phone at the "after party" and,
according to Wilson, showed Respondent standing with him and
the other accomplices. The court was persuaded that the
photograph— States Exhibit 106— "place[d]
the [Respondent] with the perpetrators of the offense."
State argues first that the photograph taken with Wilsons
cell phone and purporting to depict Respondent with the
accomplices provided the requisite independent corroborative
evidence. According to the State, the photograph shows
Respondents presence with the other participants earlier on
the night of the crime. We agree with the Court of Special
Appeals that the photograph "cannot constitute
independent corroboration because it depends entirely on Mr.
Wilsons testimony." Jones v. State, No. 1988,
2016 Term, slip op. at 9, 2018 WL 3770206 (Md. Ct. Spec. App.
Aug. 8, 2018). This is so because the evidence cannot
"pull[ ] itself up by its own bootstraps," meaning
that the accomplices testimony cannot be used to corroborate
itself. See Jeandell v. State, 34 Md.App.
108, 112, 366 A.2d 79 (1976); see also [466 Md. 153]
Turner, 294 Md. at 647, 452 A.2d 416 ("It would
eviscerate the rule to allow an accomplice to corroborate
States argument does not rest entirely on States Exhibit
106, however, but rather on two additional evidentiary items:
Respondents cell phone, which contained the contact
information of at least two of the accomplices; and
Respondents post-arrest statements, in which he proffered an
alibi and denied knowing the accomplices. The State argues
that, taken together, these items constitute circumstantial
evidence that Respondent knew when and where the crime had
occurred; he was associated with the accomplices when the
conspiracy occurred; and he now seeks to distance himself
from those facts given his consciousness of guilt. Therefore,
the State claims, the Court of Special Appeals erred in
failing to consider that Respondents false statements to the
police sufficiently connected him to the crime and/or the
accomplices in proximity to the crime, and thereby
corroborated the accomplices testimony. See
Nolan v. State, 213 Md. 298, 309, 131 A.2d 851
(1957) ("The corroborating evidence ... may consist of
... untruthful statements made by [the accused.]").
uttered the allegedly false statements during an
interrogation immediately following his arrest. After waiving
his Miranda  rights, Respondent was questioned
about his whereabouts on the night in question. In response
to a question about why he was in Essex, Respondent replied,
"I wasnt there ... I was probably asleep or
something." Notably, the police had not provided
Respondent with any information [466 Md. 154] about the
alleged crime. During a subsequent exchange, Respondent
denied knowing his accomplices;
yet, police found Harrisons and Jobess phone numbers saved
in Respondents cell phone.
State is correct that "corroborating evidence may be
circumstantial and may consist of ... untruthful statements
made by [the defendant]." It cannot be overlooked,
however, that such evidence and reasonable inferences drawn
from it must either connect Respondent to "the
commission of the crime," Nolan, 213 Md. at
309, 131 A.2d 851, or place him "with [his accomplices]
at about that time," McDowell v. State, 231 Md.
205, 214, 189 A.2d 611 (1963). None of Respondents
statements "establish either of these matters."
Brown v. State, 281 Md. 241, 244, 378 A.2d 1104
(1977). We agree with and cannot improve upon the Court of
Special Appeals analysis on this point and therefore include
Here, Mr. Joness false statement that he did not know his
alleged accomplices does not get the State any closer to
either of these points. Setting aside for the moment the
testimony of the accomplices, nothing more than pure
speculation ties Mr. Joness denials to the carjacking
conspiracy or the accomplices on the evening in question. Mr.
Joness interview took place more than a month after the
murder. At that time, he may have lied for any number of
reasons: he may not have wanted to be associated with
individuals who he believed were involved with criminal
activity or who had already been picked up by the police; he
may have known one or more of them to be bad actors; he may
have engaged in other criminal activity with them; or he may
have just distrusted the police. Nothing in the record, other
than the accomplices testimony, indicates one of these
reasons as being any more likely than any of the others.
The State, relying on the Georgia Supreme Courts decision in
Threatt v. State, 293 Ga. 549, 748 S.E.2d 400
(2013), argues that Mr. Joness false statements are enough
because, even if they do not relate to the specifics of this
crime, they show consciousness of guilt. We disagree ....
[466 Md. 155] Threatt does not stand for the
proposition that consciousness of guilt evidence alone can
provide the necessary corroborative testimony ....
Moreover, even if consciousness of guilt were enough by
itself, Mr. Joness denials do not demonstrate consciousness
of guilt of the crime at issue. Consciousness of guilt
evidence requires four sequential inferences: "(1) from
the defendants behavior to [lying]; (2) from the [lying] to
consciousness of guilt; (3) from consciousness of guilt to
consciousness of guilt concerning the crime charged; and (4)
from consciousness of guilt concerning the crime charged to
actual guilt of the crime charged." State v.
Simms, 420 Md. 705, 729, 25 A.3d 144 (2011) (quoting
Decker v. State, 408 Md. 631, 642, 971 A.2d 268
(2009)). The circumstances here do not support this
inferential chain. Stripped of the testimony of the
accomplices, there is nothing more than sheer speculation to
tie Mr. Joness denial that he knew his alleged
accomplices— coming more than a month after the
murder— to consciousness of guilt of this
crime. See Decker, 408 Md. at 642, 971 A.2d
268 (asserting that each inference requires evidentiary
Furthermore, if the accomplice corroboration rule can be
defeated by a defendants general denial of any knowledge of
his alleged accomplices— without tying that in some way
to the crime itself or the time and location of the
crime— it is difficult to see how the rule would not be
rendered meaningless. Corroboration need only be slight, but
that does not mean that it can be wholly speculative.
Jones, Op. at 154-57, 216 A.3d at 914-16 (citations
omitted) (footnote omitted); see also Thomas v.
State, 372 Md. 342, 355-58, 812 A.2d 1050 (2002) (noting
that, without physical evidence connecting the defendant to
the crime or the crime scene, the defendants statement is
"too ambiguous and equivocal" to constitute
consciousness of guilt evidence).
simply, the inferences drawn by the State here are mere
conjecture given the record before us, and, as the Court of
Special Appeals aptly stated, "[c]orroboration need only
be [466 Md. 156] slight, but that does not mean that it can
be wholly speculative." Jones, Op. at
155, 216 A.3d at 915. Accordingly, we hold that the State
failed to corroborate the accomplices testimony. Without
that testimony, it follows that the State did not provide
legally sufficient evidence to support Respondents
conviction of conspiracy to commit armed carjacking. We
therefore affirm the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals
reversing Respondents conviction.
resolved the States first question, we turn next to the
States request that we jettison the accomplice corroboration
rule in favor of the common law rule that allowed defendants
to be convicted based solely on the testimony of an
accomplice. See Luery v. State, 116 Md.
284, 292 (1911) ("It is true that at common law a
verdict of the jury would not be set [466 Md. 157] aside
merely because [it was] founded on the evidence of an
accomplice which was not corroborated[.]").
Abrogation of the Accomplice Corroboration Rule.
begin with a bit of history found in VII John H. Wigmore,
Wigmore on Evidence: Evidence in Trials at Common Law, § 2056
(Chadbourn rev. 1978). According to that treatise, concerns
regarding accomplice testimony have existed since at least
the 1600s. Id. § 2056, at 405. By the end of the
1700s, English courts had developed "a general practice
... to discourage a conviction
founded solely upon the testimony of an [uncorroborated
accomplice]." Id. This practice was not a rule
of law that bound the jury, but instead, "a mere
exercise of [the judges] common-law function of advising the
jury upon the weight of the evidence." Id. The
actual rule of law regarding accomplice testimony was
uncontroverted— convictions based solely on accomplice
testimony were legally sufficient. Id. § 2056, at
407 ("the judges are unanimously of the opinion that an
accomplice alone is a competent witness, and that if the
jury, weighing the probability of his testimony, think him
worthy of belief, a conviction supported by such testimony
alone is perfectly legal." (quoting R. v. Atwood and
Robbins (1788), 1 Leach Cr. L. 464, 465 (4th ed.
in the United States followed suit and counseled juries to
exercise caution when evaluating the reliability of
accomplice testimony. Id. § 2056, at 407-08. Then,
as described in Wigmore, "in a misguided moment[,] the
orthodox function of the judge to assist the jury on matters
of fact was (except in a few jurisdictions) eradicated from
our system." Id. § 2056, at 416. Because judges
could no longer assist the jury, "[t]he makers of this
innovation upon established trial methods were thus obliged
to turn into a rule of law the ...