James v. State

Citation991 A.2d 122,191 Md. App. 233
PartiesRienaldo Bernard JAMES a/k/a James Rienaldo v. STATE of Maryland.
Decision Date24 March 2010
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland


Michael R. Malloy (Nancy S. Forster, Public Defender, on the brief), Baltimore, MD, for Appellant.

Sarah Page Pritzlaff (Douglas F. Gansler, Atty. Gen., on the brief), Baltimore, MD, for Appellee.



A jury in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City convicted Rienaldo Bernard James, appellant, of first-degree assault, illegal possession of a firearm by a felon, use of a handgun in the commission of a crime of violence, and carrying a handgun. On April 8, 2008, the trial court sentenced appellant to twenty-five years' incarceration for the first-degree assault, and a concurrent term of five years, without parole, for the illegal possession. The trial court also sentenced appellant to ten years in prison for the firearm use conviction, and suspended the execution of this term in favor of three years' probation. The count for carrying a firearm was merged.

Appellant raises three issues for our consideration, which we have recast as follows:1

1. Whether the trial judge committed plain error in the manner by which he conducted voir dire in the jury selection process.
2. Whether the trial court erred by denying appellant's motion to suppress identification testimony of one witness.
3. Whether the trial court abused its discretion by overruling the defendant's objection to a statement made during the prosecutor's rebuttal closing argument.

For the reasons set forth below, we shall affirm.


This case arose from an altercation that took place on the evening of December 23, 2006, at the Hollinswood Inn, which is located in the 2800 block of Annapolis Road, Baltimore. Bobby Lewis Trent, who was a shooting victim that evening, testified that he went to the Hollinswood Inn with his cousin, Rico Blick. Trent had left work between 8 and 9 p.m., and he was joined by some friends at the Inn to drink and listen to music.

Trent recalled that appellant — whom Trent identified in open court — walked into the Inn. According to Trent, appellant "started to get all loud," and "somehow" got into an altercation with Trent's cousin Tavon. During this disturbance, appellant struck one of Tavon's friends, and "took him the friend out of the bar." After the appellant "threw Trent's cousin's friend out of the bar," appellant came back inside "in a rage," and announced: "By the way, whoever don't know me my name is Rienaldo." Trent did not know appellant, had never seen him previously, and had never been to that bar before that night. On cross-examination, Trent revised his testimony and stated that appellant had exclaimed that his name was "Nardo."

Later in the evening, another altercation broke out in the bar. Trent was watching another cousin shoot pool when he noticed a "guy getting hit in the head with mad sic bottles, pool balls, anything." Appellant was involved in this affray, which Trent described as "chaos." Trent did not know who started the fight, but he added that appellant was, again, "in a rage." Trent suggested to his cousin, "Let's get out of here." Trent testified that he felt threatened, and as he left, he looked "Mr. Nardo in his eye" and said, "Man, I'm gone." As he looked back, Trent saw that appellant was holding a silver handgun.

Trent started running, fearing for his life as he heard gunfire. Trent testified that two men shot at him, although he could only see "Mr. Nardo, because I mean, his presence and the gun — it's plain and simple." Trent and one cousin were outside of the bar at this point, while another cousin had gone back inside to fetch his keys. When he saw the handgun, Trent started to run away, and was wounded by one of the "multiple shots" that were fired.

An ambulance responded, and Trent was rushed to the hospital. He spoke with a detective both during the trip to the hospital and while he was in his room. On December 26, 2006, while convalescing at the hospital, Trent viewed a photo array and, in a "split second," selected appellant's photograph. He described the photo as that of the person who shot him. Trent admitted on cross-examination that he had consumed "like between four or five" beers that evening, but claimed that he was "focused to everything that happened that night."

One of Trent's cousins, Rico Blick, came forward as a surprise witness at trial. The appellant's objection to his testimony will be set forth more fully below. Blick testified that on the evening of December 23, 2006, his cousin Bobby Trent urged him to join him for a night out. At first, Blick was reluctant to go out, but Blick then suggested they go to the Hollinswood Inn, stating that he knew "one little chill spot where he knew won't be too much drama there." Blick, Trent, Blick's brother-in-law, and two of Blick's co-workers went to Hollinswood Inn.

Once there, Blick and Trent had some drinks and shot some pool. Blick recalled that, after about a half hour, one of his co-workers came from "out of nowhere," approached Trent, and said "I'm about to get out of here, I think that guy right there, Mr. Nardo, I think he got a gun. So I'm just going to go ahead and leave." At this, "Mr. Nardo comes, loud boisterous, and said `Don't be telling no more fucking body about who I am, they don't know me. You know what I mean, don't be telling nobody about me and nothing like that, matter a fact, roll out.'"

Blick's co-worker told them that he would just leave, and did so. The co-worker was "escorted" out of the bar by appellant. When appellant came back inside the bar, appellant announced: "If anybody don't know me my name is Nardo. This is how I get down, I gets down, my name is Nardo." This was followed by silence. The music stopped as everyone appeared to turn and focus on "Nardo." After a moment, some men at the bar said, "Okay, we know who you are, turn the music back on," and the music resumed. Trent told Blick that he felt uneasy about staying. Blick reassured his cousin, explaining that everything was calm, and Blick persuaded Trent to stay a while longer. After "half an hour," there was another commotion in the bar. Blick then agreed that they should leave.

Blick and Trent left the bar. Because Blick left his car keys inside, he returned to retrieve them from his brother-in-law who was still in the bar. When Blick came back out of the bar, Blick saw Trent running up the street. "Mr. Nardo and another gentlemen were standing in the middle of the street firing off at him, firing off at him." The gunmen then got into a car and "sped off." Meanwhile, Blick and his brother-in-law got into their vehicle and drove up to Trent. Trent, who had jumped over a "little bridge" in his efforts to avoid being shot, had suffered a gunshot wound to the leg.

Blick estimated that he stood from 10 to 30 feet away from appellant when the latter was shooting at Trent. He had not had any confrontations with "Mr. Nardo," but had noticed him "the majority of the night" he was in the bar.

When the prosecutor asked Blick whether he saw the shooter in court, defense counsel objected, and the trial court sustained the objection. The prosecutor moved on without securing Blick's explicit identification of appellant as the shooter.2

The State also presented the testimony of police officers who were involved in responding to, and investigating, the shooting. The State then moved into evidence a stipulation that appellant had previously been convicted of a crime that disqualified him from possessing a regulated firearm. Following the presentation of the State's case, the trial court denied the defendant's motion for judgments of acquittal.

Appellant testified in his defense, and also presented the testimony of Tavon Gwynn and Tiffany Rhue. Gwynn, appellant's friend, persuaded appellant to join Gwynn and Gwynn's brother Mark on a trip to the Hollinswood Inn. Gwynn testified that there was a confrontation between two different groups, and that appellant stepped in to mediate. When one of the men in the bar asked his name, appellant responded that his name was "Nardo." After some men in the bar resisted appellant's attempts at mediation, appellant suggested that he and the Gwynns should leave. Tiffany Rhue corroborated Gwynn's recollection that appellant was a mediator, and testified that when she went to the Inn to purchase beer, she saw appellant trying to "defuse the situation" when an altercation took place. When someone questioned who appellant was, he replied "My name Nardo." Rhue denied that there had been any shooting in the bar when she had been there. Appellant's testimony also portrayed himself as a peacemaker, and he denied being involved in a shooting.

The renewed motion for judgment of acquittal was denied, and the case went to the jury.

We shall recite additional facts as they relate to the issues on appeal.

I. Voir Dire

Appellant challenges the trial court's method of conducting jury selection. He specifically asserts that the trial court's manner of asking the venire a series of preliminary questions constituted a "flawed voir dire procedure that interfered with the Appellant's right to a fair and impartial jury."

Appellant, citing Dingle v. State, 361 Md. 1, 759 A.2d 819 (2000), also complains that the trial court "compounded" the error posed by the collective questioning by asking individual jurors an improper follow-up query at the bench: whether the juror had "any information to give the Court in response to my questions." Appellant claims that this follow-up query shifted the burden of judging a juror's partiality from the court to the prospective juror because it encouraged a juror's "self-assessment."

Acknowledging that trial counsel failed to contest the court's method of collective questioning, or, for that matter, any...

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