Smith v. State

CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland
Citation20 Md.App. 254,315 A.2d 76
Docket NumberNo. 451,451
PartiesFrances Ester SMITH v. STATE of Maryland.
Decision Date19 February 1974

Jack B. Rubin and Lee Gordon, Baltimore, for appellant.

James L. Bundy, Asst. Atty. Gen., with whom were Francis B. Burch, Atty. Gen., Milton B. Allen, State's Atty. for Baltimore City, Joseph J. Wase and Bernard Kole, Asst. State's Attys. for Baltimore City, on the brief, for appellee.

Argued before MOYLAN, POWERS and LOWE, JJ.

MOYLAN, Judge.

The appellant, Frances Ester Smith, was convicted in the Criminal Court of Baltimore by a jury, presided over by Judge Charles D. Harris, of murder in the second degree. Upon this appeal, she raises three contentions:

(1) That the trial court erred in refusing to permit testimony aimed at impeaching a key State's witness;

(2) That the trial court erred in refusing to allow the introduction of evidence concerning the violent character of the victim; and

(3) That the Maryland law presuming all unlawful homicide to be murder in the second degree is unconstitutional.

On October 7, 1972, at approximately 8:50 p. m., a shooting occurred at 1710 N. Fulton Avenue. When Officer David Brice and Officer Edward Brown arrived at the crime scene, three blocks from where they received the call, they found the victim, Johnnie James Smith, lying on the ground 'with a hole the size of a grapefruit in his stomach.' Beside him was a sawed-off shotgun. A few feet away stood the appellant. Officer Brice asked the victim who had shot him and the victim stated, 'She did,' indicating the appellant. According to both officers, the appellant responded, 'Yes, I shot the sonofabitch.' The appellant was then placed under arrest. As the officers started to lead her away, she pulled away from Officer Brown and 'started stomping Mr. Smith in the gunshot wound.' As she did so, she shouted, 'I didn't mean to shoot you, I meant to kill you.' The appellant was the ex-wife of the victim. The victim died on October 13, six days later.

The victim's wife, Jeanette Smith, testified that a few minutes before the shooting, the appellant knocked on the door and stated that she wanted to see her ex-husband. The appellant was carrying a paper bag under her right arm. Jeannette Smith shortly thereafter drove away in her car, but observed, upon leaving, that the appellant and her husband were talking on the sidewalk in front of the house.

Mrs. Christine Ledbetter, the victim's mother-in-law, also observed the appellant come to the victim's home. She also observed the brown paper bag. A few minutes later, while looking through a front window, she observed the appellant and the victim standing outside. She heard harsh words between them, saw the victim appear to be starting back toward the house, and saw the appellant shoot him without removing the gun from the paper bag. She saw the appellant drop the gun and the bag and then kick the victim. She immediately called the police.

The appellant admitted her presence at the scene of the shooting, but said that the gun went off accidentally as she struggled with the victim to take the gun away from him. She stated that the victim produced the gun.

Officer Brown was asked whether during his visit with the victim at Lutheran Hospital, the victim had told him that the shooting was accidental. Officer Brown was subsequently asked whether he had passed on such a comment to James Watkins, an investigator for the Public Defender's Office. Officer Brown could not recall either receiving such information from the victim or passing on such information to James Watkins. The defense, just before closing its case, made the following request in a conference at the bench:

'(Mr. Press) Your Honor, the defense would proffer that if James Watkins of the Public Defender's staff was allowed to testify he would state that on the date of January 26, 1973 he had a telephone conversation with Officer Edward Brown of the Baltimore City Police Department. In the course of that conversation Mr. Watkins was informed that the deceased Johnnie Smith, on visiting the hospital, being confronted by Officer Brown, was told that this incident was an accident.

(The Court) I'll sustain the objection. Do you object to the proffer?

(Mr. Wase) Yes, Your Honor. I do.

(The Court) I'll sustain the objection to the proffer.'

The defense thesis is that Officer Brown, at least on cross-examination, affirmatively denied making a particular statement to James Watkins. James Watkins was being offered to impeach the credibility of Officer Brown by demonstrating that Officer Brown had made a prior statement inconsistent with his trial testimony. We hold, however, that Judge Harris acted properly in refusing to permit such extrinsic evidence of 'self-contradiction.'

The rule as to impeaching a witness by showing a prior inconsistent statement requires that the statement be with respect to 'material facts (but not in respect to facts that are collateral, irrelevant or immaterial).' Sanders v. State, 1 Md.App. 630, 640, 232 A.2d 555, 561.

The cross-examination of Officer Brown in the first instance was undoubtedly proper, even if the ostensible statement made by him to James Watkins was as to a 'collateral' fact rather than a 'material' fact. With respect to merely 'collateral' matters, however, the cross-examiner must 'take the answer.' He may only introduce extrinsic evidence of contradiction where the statement in issue was as to a 'material' fact. The principle is well enunciated in McCormick, Law of Evidence, Ch. 5, 'Impeachment and Support,' § 36, 'The Subject-Matter of the Inconsistent Statements,' p. 66 'On cross-examination we have seen that strict rules of relevancy are relaxed, and generally the trial judge in his discretion may permit the cross-examiner to inquire about any previous statements inconsistent with assertions, relevant or irrelevant, which the witness has testified to on direct or cross. At this stage, there is no requirement that the previous impeaching statements must not deal with 'collateral' matters. But as appears in the next paragraph, if the inquiry on cross-examination is as to inconsistent statements about 'collateral' matters, the cross-examiner must 'take the answer'-he cannot bring on other witnesses to prove the making of the alleged statement.

At this latter stage, of extrinsic evidence, that is, the production of attacking witnesses, for obvious reasons of economy at time and attention, the range of impeachment by inconsistent statements is sharply narrowed. The tag, 'You cannot contradict as to collateral matters,' applies, and here the meaning is that to impeach by extrinsic proof of prior inconsistent statements, such statements must have as their subject (1) facts relevant to the issues in the cause, or (2) facts which are themselves provable by extrinsic evidence to discredit the witness.'

The question at bar is whether the disputed conversation between Officer Brown and ...

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6 cases
  • Dorsey v. State, 9
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • 9 Enero 1976
    ...of Special Appeals in Younie v. State, 19 Md.App. 439, 311 A.2d 798 (1973).14 On certiorari to the Court of Special Appeals in Smith v. State, 20 Md.App. 254, 315 A.2d (1974).15 By the adoption of such criteria to be applied in criminal cases, we do not suggest that the well-engrafted test ......
  • Cox v. State, 928
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • 6 Abril 1982 156 and 162-163, 328 A.2d 274. On appeal of the case to the Court of Special Appeals, it had explicitly so held. Smith v. State, 20 Md.App. 254, 257, 315 A.2d 76 (1974). More on point is Mahan v. State, 172 Md. 373, 191 A. 575 (1937). It concerned an action for damages incurred by the de......
  • Bratt v. State
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • 28 Abril 2020
    ...274 (1974), Smith was convicted of second-degree murder. She appealed to the Court of Special Appeals, which affirmed her conviction. 20 Md. App. 254, 315 A.2d 76 (1974). "The Court [ ] reversed the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals, which, then, as directed, vacated its mandate[,]........
  • Smith v. State, 887
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • 15 Abril 1976
    ...for 30 years from 1 February 1973. She appealed on 18 May 1973. 2 The Court of Special Appeals affirmed the judgment, Smith v. State, 20 Md.App. 254, 315 A.2d 76 (1974), and the mandate was issued on 21 March 1974. On 6 May 1974 Mrs. Smith moved the trial court for a reduction of sentence. ......
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