Warnken, LLC Attorneys at Law, Attorneys & Lawyers, Pikesville, MD

Yates v. State

Yates v. State, — A.3d — (2012), 2012 WL 5200051

Procedural History:

Defendant was convicted in trial court of second degree felony murder, use of a handgun in the commission of a crime of violence, use of the handgun in the commission of a felony, drug trafficking with a firearm, distribution of marijuana, and other offense. Defendant appealed convictions to Court of Special Appeals. Court of Special Appeals affirmed judgments of conviction. Court of Appeals granted certiorari.

Facts:

Defendant was involved in a drug deal gone bad and fired at the individual who ripped him off. The bullet fired from the handgun missed the intended target, struck an innocent bystander, and the innocent bystander died from the gunshot wounds.

Issues:

1. Did the Court of Special Appeals err in concluding that the improper admission of hearsay describing Mr. Yates’s alleged confession was harmless error?

2. Did the Court of Special Appeals err in adopting the res gestae theory of second-degree felony murder in sustaining Mr. Yates’s conviction?

3. Did the Court of Special Appeals abuse its discretion in declining to exercise plain error review of a jury instruction solely on the grounds that the instruction was consistent with a Maryland Criminal Pattern Jury Instruction?

Holding:

1. Error in admission of detective’s double-hearsay that witness told him that defendant told witness he had “popped that ******” was harmless.

2. Fatal shooting of innocent bystander was committed during perpetration of felony, namely, distribution of marijuana, as required to support conviction for felony murder

3. The Court of Special Appeals did not abuse its discretion in declining to engage in plain error review of defendant’s challenge to felony murder instruction

Rationale:

  1. The statement was cumulative of other evidence to which the defendant did not offer an objection. Other witnesses testified to similar admissions that established the essential contents of the hearsay without objection by the defendant.
  2. A killing constitutes felony murder when the homicide and the felony are part of a continuous transaction and are closely related in time, place, and causal relation. The shooting was immediate, directly related to the distribution of marijuana.
  3. The plain error standard gives a reviewing court a great deal of latitude to decide whether to exercise its discretion. The Court of Special Appeals gave appropriate weight to the use of pattern jury instructions and noted the lack of any authority to support the claim of error.