Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Split Decision

A Baltimore County jury convicted Javon Clark today of attempted robbery but acquitted him of first degree murder of noted St. Pauls school teacher William Bassett. No doubt existed that Clark was the "wheel man"; the only factual issue was whether he was coerced into doing so by the actual shooter.

Clark did not mention to police during an interview that he had been coerced, but claimed later that the shooter had put a shotgun to his ribs to make him drive. As the prosecution noted, the length of a (non-sawed-off) shotgun would have made the butt of the gun stick outside of the car, yielding an awkward grip.

The traditional "felony murder" rule basically states that if someone gets killed in the commission of another felony, it is murder. The accessory rule states basically that those who knowingly aid materially a criminal act before or during that are guilty of that act; in a bank robbery, for example, the wheel man, bag man and gun man are all bank robbers. Conspiracy is sometimes confused with accessory; conspiracy means a criminal plot.

Under the felony murder rule, the jury should have convicted Clark of murder if it convicted him of attempted robbery. But juries are funny; being people, they think like people and not like law professors. They did not think that the 18 year-old should get life imprisonment. So they did not convict him of murder.

Article 23 of Maryland's Declaration of Rights states that juries have the right to be the judges of the law as well as of the facts. While I doubt that attorney Lawrence Rosenberg argued that point to the jury on behalf of Mr. Clark or included article 23 in his proposed jury instructions to the bench, Maryland law actually permits a jury, in a sense, to ignore the law or to conform the law in a criminal case to its fairest judgment.

-- Bruce Godfrey
Crablaw Weekly


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9/13/2005 09:38:00 PM  

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