Parham v. State

Decision Date01 September 1988
Docket NumberNo. 1225,1225
Citation79 Md.App. 152,556 A.2d 280
PartiesCharles PARHAM v. STATE of Maryland. ,
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

Arthur A. DeLano, Jr., Asst. Public Defender (Alan H. Murrell, Public Defender on the brief), Baltimore, for appellant.

Cathleen C. Brockmeyer, Asst. Atty. Gen. (J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Atty. Gen. and Stuart O. Simms, State's Atty. for Baltimore City on the brief), Baltimore, for appellee.

Submitted Before BISHOP, BELL (ROSALYN B.) and WENNER, JJ.

ROSALYN B. BELL, Judge.

Charles Parham was convicted by a jury in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City of assault with intent to murder, burglary and carrying a deadly weapon openly with intent to injure. He was sentenced to seven years imprisonment for the assault with intent to murder, three years for carrying a deadly weapon with intent to injure, and seven years for the burglary, all sentences to run concurrently with each other.

On appeal, Parham contends:

--The trial court abused its discretion in refusing to grant a mistrial following an emotional outburst by his mother-in-law.

--The trial court abused its discretion in refusing to grant his request for a postponement to secure the presence of two alibi witnesses.

--The evidence was insufficient to sustain the burglary conviction.

We disagree and affirm.

Parham and Charlene Queen were married in June of 1987. In early fall, they moved to 2540 West Lombard Street, Baltimore. According to Queen, Parham "was always beating on me, hitting on me, so I told him when we moved on Lombard Street if he started the same thing again that I was going to put him out. He started it so I had to put him out." This occurred in October. On December 16, 1987, Queen returned home at 10:00 p.m. She related the events to the jury:

* * *

* * *

"When I turned the bedroom light on the pictures on the wall was tampered with and the drawers halfway open and I thought I know I didn't leave my room like this, I thought, oh well, so I put the gifts on the floor because during that time the carpeting was not done upstairs yet and while I was proceeding to close the dresser drawer someone grabbed me from behind with gloves on and threw me on the floor in the hallway to my bedroom and put a knife to my throat and said bitch, if you scream I am going to cut your throat and he threw me in the bathroom and I shut the door real fast, I was screaming and I wondered why [my] mother had not called yet. I heard the phone ring so I figured she thought I was not home yet, or stopped at somebody house.

"BY [ASSISTANT STATE'S ATTORNEY]:

"Q. Earlier you said that someone grabbed you. Were you able to see who it was?

"A. Yes, when he threw me on the floor and said bitch you better not scream, I knew who it was.

* * *

* * *

"Q. ... After you went into the bathroom what happened?

"A. I shut the door, locked it--I put my feet up on the toilet for support so he could not get in. I was screaming and hoping that my mother would call. When she called no one answered the phone. I guess she figured that I stopped at a friend's house.

"While I was screaming, Charles, my husband went downstairs and got the biggest butcher knife that I own in my kitchen.

* * *

* * *

"A. Then he took the knife and cut the door, carved through the door, kicked his foot through it, and I was screaming help me please, and I say Charles it is not worth it, and he say bitch I have been planning this for six weeks, take your clothes off and run a hot tub of water. So I asked him why, he said I am going ... to cut you in pieces and put you in water. Then he took this knife and jammed it in my head right here, and that is when I knew he was going to cut me up in pieces and put me in the tub of water.

* * *

* * * "A. So that is when I knew he was going to do it so I said please Charles it is not worth it, and so he said bitch I ain't trying to hear that. So he said you got 30 seconds to take all your clothes off, so as soon as he walked a little bit from the bath room it is a room next to the bathroom so that is when I ran and jumped out the window and cut my face and ... my forehead.

* * *

* * *

"A. He said you have 30 seconds and he was like proceeding out the bathroom across to the--and I said I would rather jump out the window and kill myself than to let him stab me and cut me up and put me in a tub of water.

* * *

* * *

"A. What happened was I never made it to the ground or second level of the condominium. He had me by my hair and--he had me by my hair trying to bring me back into the house. He took the knife and stabbed me in the back.

"Q. Before or after you went through the window?

"A. I never made the jump to the ground. I guess he was behind me. He grabbed me by my hair and I was trying to fight him to get off of me, he was trying to bring me back in the house. Then he stabbed me in the back and let me go."

* * *

* * *

"A. When he let me go, I just had my eyes closed and I thought that was it. I thought that was it. I landed on my back, I was unconscious for like half a second, and where I live is like a parking lot then an alley and like houses there and I saw people out there and I jumped up running, screaming help me, help me, he stabbed me. And the guys--I don't know their names I was new around the area, and my leg collapsed, I had to get stitches in my leg. They took me in the house and I was bleeding and one guy got his mother. She was a nurse and she tried to stop the bleeding until the para-medics and police came."

Queen identified Parham as the man who did all this to her.

THE MOTION FOR A MISTRIAL

During the trial, the victim's mother shouted something at appellant while he was testifying in his own defense. Despite the court's conclusion as to audibility of the comment, the reporter did record the incident. Appellant was being asked how many times he had been in for drug and alcohol treatment. He answered, "I don't know how many times, but it has been several times." At that point, the victim's mother yelled, "Every time you beat my daughter's behind, that is how many times you went there." Appellant moved for a mistrial. The trial judge denied the motion and stated:

"There was a lady, as it turns out she was the mother of the estranged wife of this defendant, but that was not--the court nor the jury did not know that because the witnesses have been sequestered in this case and the lady was sitting by herself at the end of the bench.

"She did at one point get up and briefly and emotionally yell something at this defendant, certainly not in a friendly but in a hostile manner. Granted that, what she said was not clear to me, but it was clear to the court reporter who was seated quite close [to] her. I could not hear it and [Assistant State's Attorney] could not hear it, and taking into account the acoustics in this courtroom[,] I think there may have been one or two words the jury could have heard."

The trial judge then instructed the jury as follows:

"Members of the jury, we are going to continue. I remind you that your decision in this case must be based solely on the evidence that comes in during the trial. You did hear briefly a woman get up and make an emotional comment. I am not sure whether you understood it or not. In any event, you are to disregard that comment and that particular lady who is not a witness in this case.

Disregard her action totally in your deliberation when you deliberate as to the guilt or innocence of this defendant."

On appeal, appellant contends that the court's instructions were ineffective to cure the prejudice to him as a result of the incident and the denial of his motion for mistrial was an abuse of discretion. We do not agree.

A motion for mistrial, based on the behavior in the courtroom of a member of the victim's family, should only be granted under very extraordinary circumstances, and this determination lies largely within the discretion of the trial judge. Hunt v. State, 312 Md. 494, 502-03, 540 A.2d 1125 (1988). This determination will not be disturbed absent a clear showing of prejudice to the defendant. Hunt, 312 Md. at 503, 540 A.2d 1125. Moreover, "[e]motional responses in a courtroom are not unusual, especially in criminal trials, and manifestly, the defendant is not entitled to a mistrial every time someone becomes upset in the court of trial." Hunt, 312 Md. at 501, 540 A.2d 1125.

In the instant case, neither the trial judge nor counsel was in the position to anticipate the outburst in this case. The witnesses had been sequestered and no one was aware that the victim's mother would react as she did during appellant's testimony. The trial judge acknowledged the outburst, assessed its impact upon the jury, and gave curative instructions. Appellant did not request any alternative relief to a mistrial, such as inquiry of the jury to learn if any of them did know what was said. The trial judge was in the best position to evaluate any prejudicial effect, and we defer to her assessment. Thus, we find no clear showing of prejudice and no abuse of discretion in the denial of the mistrial.

THE MOTION FOR A CONTINUANCE

Appellant contends that the trial court erred in denying his request for a continuance to secure the testimony of three alibi witnesses.

After the jury was impaneled, appellant requested a continuance in order to call some witnesses who, according to his counsel, "may or may not be alibi witnesses." These alibi witnesses had not been disclosed to defense counsel until the day of trial nor had they been given to the State. Appellant's failure to disclose these alibi witnesses was in violation of the State's request for discovery in accordance with Rule 4-263(d)(3). Under Rule 4-263(i), the trial court has broad discretion as to how violations of discovery will be handled. The trial judge could have refused to permit the witnesses to testify even if they appeared. She was not so restrictive, however. She advised coun...

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