Williams v. State

Decision Date25 March 2022
Docket Number37, Sept. Term, 2021
Citation478 Md. 99,272 A.3d 347
Parties Nicholas Jabbar WILLIAMS v. STATE of Maryland
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

Argued by J. Alejandro Barrientos and Kevin B. Collins (Alexander Levin, Covington & Burling LLP, Washington, DC), on brief, for Petitioner.

Argued by Derek Simmonsen, Asst. Atty. Gen. (Brian E. Frosh, Atty. Gen. of Maryland, Annapolis, MD), on brief, for Respondent.

Argued before: Getty, C.J., McDonald,* Watts, Hotten, Booth, Biran, and Alan M. Wilner (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.

Watts, J. Maryland case law establishes that verdicts can be inconsistent in two ways—legally and factually. In a criminal case, verdicts are legally inconsistent where a defendant is convicted of an offense but acquitted of another offense that has the same elements as the offense of which the defendant was convicted. See McNeal v. State, 426 Md. 455, 458, 44 A.3d 982, 984 (2012). In other words, verdicts are legally inconsistent "where a defendant is acquitted of a ‘lesser included’ crime embraced within a conviction for a greater offense." Id. at 458 n.1, 44 A.3d at 984 n.1. Legally inconsistent verdicts are impermissible in criminal trials. See id. at 458, 470, 44 A.3d at 984, 991. In a criminal jury trial, where a trial court has properly instructed a jury as to the offenses at issue and the jury nonetheless reaches legally inconsistent verdicts, the jury has, presumptively, failed to follow the jury instructions given by the court. See id. at 458, 44 A.3d at 984.

In a criminal case, verdicts are factually inconsistent where proof of the charged offenses involves establishing the same facts and the offenses have different legal elements, and a trier of fact acquits the defendant of one offense but convicts of the other. See id. at 458, 44 A.3d at 984. For instance, a guilty verdict as to possession of a regulated firearm by a disqualified person might be factually inconsistent with a not-guilty verdict as to wearing, carrying, or transporting a handgun, if there were a single set of facts in which the defendant possessed or carried a handgun after being convicted of a disqualifying crime. See id. at 472-73, 44 A.3d at 992-93. Factually inconsistent verdicts are impermissible in criminal bench trials, but they are permitted in criminal jury trials. See id. at 462, 470, 44 A.3d at 986, 991. This is because, in a criminal jury trial, factually inconsistent verdicts "may be the product of lenity, mistake, or a compromise to reach unanimity, and [ ] continual correction of such matters would undermine the historic role of the jury as the arbiter of questions put to it." Id. at 470, 44 A.3d at 991 (cleaned up).

In this case, we must determine whether a jury's guilty verdict as to second-degree murder is legally inconsistent with not-guilty verdicts as to first-degree assault and use of a firearm in the commission of a crime of violence. We must also determine whether the trial court abused its discretion in denying a motion for a new trial based on the jury having allegedly returned inconsistent verdicts. Finally, we must determine whether the evidence is sufficient to support convictions for second-degree murder and possession of a regulated firearm while under the age of twenty-one.

In the Circuit Court for Charles County, the State, Respondent, charged Nicholas Jabbar Williams, Petitioner, with first-degree premeditated murder of Cameron Marcel Townsend, use of a firearm in the commission of a crime of violence (murder), first-degree assault of Townsend, use of a firearm in the commission of a crime of violence (first-degree assault), possession of a regulated firearm while under the age of twenty-one, and wearing, carrying, or transporting a handgun in a vehicle. The jury found Williams guilty of second-degree murder and possession of a regulated firearm while under the age of twenty-one and not guilty of first-degree assault and use of firearm in the commission of a crime of violence (second-degree murder).1 Williams's counsel objected on the ground that the guilty verdict as to second-degree murder was legally inconsistent with the not-guilty verdict as to first-degree assault. Williams's counsel requested that the circuit court have the jury "redeliberate" with respect to second-degree murder. The circuit court denied the request and accepted the jury's verdicts.

Williams filed a motion for a new trial, contending that statements made by jurors after the jury had been dismissed indicated that the jury misinterpreted the jury instructions on second-degree murder and other matters. Williams attached to the motion an affidavit signed by one of the jurors in this case, containing allegations concerning the jury's deliberations. The State moved to strike the statements in the motion for a new trial that were attributed to jurors. The circuit court granted the motion to strike, sealed the affidavit,2 and denied the motion for a new trial.

Williams appealed, and, without affirming or reversing, the Court of Special Appeals ordered a limited remand to the circuit court with instruction to determine whether a firearms examiner's report was admissible under Rochkind v. Stevenson, 471 Md. 1, 236 A.3d 630 (2020). See Williams v. State, 251 Md. App. 523, 574, 546, 254 A.3d 556, 586, 570 (2021). Although the Court of Special Appeals did not affirm the convictions, the Court rejected Williams's contentions as to the issues before us. See id. at 538, 572, 567, 254 A.3d at 565, 585, 582. Williams filed a petition for a writ of certiorari , which we granted. See Williams v. State, 476 Md. 262, 261 A.3d 239 (2021).

Before us, Williams contends that the guilty verdict as to second-degree murder and the not-guilty verdicts as to first-degree assault and use of firearm in the commission of a crime of violence (second-degree murder) are inconsistent because in finding him not guilty of first-degree assault and use of firearm in the commission of second-degree murder, the jury necessarily determined that he did not shoot Townsend. Williams asserts that in returning a verdict of guilty as to second-degree murder and a verdict of not guilty as to first-degree assault and use of firearm in the commission of a crime of violence, the jury failed to follow the circuit court's jury instructions on second-degree murder, the presumption of innocence, the burden of proof, and the requirement to decide this case based only on the evidence. Williams argues that it is permissible for the Court to consider information that he obtained from jurors after the verdict, including the affidavit accompanying the motion for a new trial, because the information demonstrates that the State failed to prove him guilty of second-degree murder. Finally, Williams asserts that the evidence is insufficient to support the convictions for second-degree murder and possession of a regulated firearm while under the age of twenty-one.

Below, in Part I, we hold that the verdicts are not legally inconsistent because the instructions given to the jury were correct and neither of the offenses at issue of which Williams was acquitted—first-degree assault and use of a firearm in the commission of a crime of violence—is a lesser-included offense of second-degree murder. In Part II, we hold that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion for a new trial in light of the "no-impeachment rule"i.e. , the longstanding principle that impeachment of a jury verdict with information about the jury's deliberations obtained from jurors after the verdict had been returned is not permitted. In Part III, we hold that the evidence was sufficient to support the challenged convictions.3

BACKGROUND

Evidence and Bill of Particulars

The Court of Special Appeals summarized the evidence as follows:

Detective [John] Long testified that Williams owned and drove a black Hyundai Accent, pictures of which the State moved into evidence. [Justin] Skinner testified that on December 14, 2017, Williams drove Townsend, [Devin] Hall, and Skinner to a shoe store in Washington, D.C., for Townsend to sell shoes. Townsend was also making drug sales throughout the day. Townsend had a handgun, which Skinner touched at some point while in the car, and which "could have been ... under a seat or in the center console ...." After stopping at a gas station, Williams dropped Hall and Skinner off around 8:00 p.m. and continued alone with Townsend. Skinner did not see any bullet holes in the seats or door of Williams’ car when he was dropped off.
One resident of Holly Avenue testified that he heard gunshots around 8:30 p.m. and looked out his window to see a man next to a black car. He described the man as standing over another person—who first responders later identified as Townsend—on the ground. According to the witness, the man leaned down, almost touching Townsend, and asked him if he was alright. The man jumped into the car and sped away. Another neighbor heard "five or six gunshots" around that time.
First responders attempted to aid Townsend but, failing to detect a pulse, declared him deceased at 8:37 p.m. The assistant medical examiner who conducted an autopsy testified that Townsend was hit with seven bullets; she recovered six bullets from Townsend's body. She testified that four of the gunshot wounds were "rapidly fatal." One bullet hit the base of his spinal column, which would have been immobilizing. The wound paths were generally from left to right, front to back, and slightly downwards. Four bullets entered Townsend's left arm before penetrating his torso.
Detectives testified about physical evidence recovered from Williams’ car, bedroom, and the scene of the shooting. Investigators recovered three nine-millimeter cartridge cases from the scene and one from Williams’ car. The firearms examiner testified that the cartridges were all fired from one gun. Forensic analysts who processed the car recovered a nine-millimeter bullet from the rear passenger-side
...

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9 cases
  • Huggins v. State
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • 7 Julio 2022
    ...of these Rules in the present context. These are inherently legal issues that we review without deference. Williams v. State , 478 Md. 99, 131, 272 A.3d 347 (2022) ; Won Bok Lee v. Won Sun Lee , 466 Md. 601, 619, 223 A.3d 478 (2020). The canons of construction we use to interpret the rules ......
  • Huggins v. State
    • United States
    • Maryland Court of Appeals
    • 7 Julio 2022
    ... ... the evidence at issue here. Our task, therefore, is to ... determine the most sensible application of these Rules in the ... present context. These are inherently legal issues ... that we review without deference. Williams v. State , ... 478 Md. 99, 131 (2022); Won Bok Lee v. Won Sun Lee , ... 466 Md. 601, 619 (2020) ...          The ... canons of construction we use to interpret the rules are the ... same ones that guide our construction of statutes. Grade ... v. State ... ...
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    ...to a discretionary matter, a trial court must exercise its discretion in accordance with correct legal standards."), aff'd , 478 Md. 99, 272 A.3d 347 (2022) ; In re Gerald S. Dory , 244 Md. App. 177, 203, 222 A.3d 286 (2019) (quoting Barrett v. Barrett , 240 Md. App. 581, 591, 207 A.3d 646 ......
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