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The criticism that ended a murder case

Comments in mistrial led to dismissal via double jeopardy

A defense attorney turned a Baltimore judge’s attack on her competence, and his mistrial declaration, into a dismissal of all charges – including murder – against her client.

Judge Alfred Nance.

Judge Alfred Nance

In ordering a new trial, Baltimore City Circuit Judge Alfred Nance said Assistant Public Defender Deborah Katz Levi “failed to understand that she is here to represent the defendant,” Montrelle Braxton, who stood accused of stabbing Tarvis Briscoe to death in May 2014.

“I question how many murder trials she’s had or trials of such importance,” Nance said during the trial, held in late spring.

Levi objected to Nance’s declaration of a mistrial. When Nance questioned the reason for the objection, Levi said she wanted her objection to be on the record.

The case was then transferred to Judge Julie R. Rubin and Levi moved for dismissal.

Levi, in her motion filed last month, contended that Nance was too quick in declaring a mistrial, that there was no “manifest necessity” for that trial to end. Lacking a sufficient basis for mistrial, that first trial must be counted as complete, she argued, and putting Braxton on trial again would therefore amount to double jeopardy in violation of the federal Constitution.

Nance “failed to cite to any specific conduct [he] was referring to as the basis for the mistrial, and even if there was deficient conduct, [he] was required to use less drastic measures to cure any alleged defect,” Levi wrote.

Rubin agreed and dismissed the murder charge July 28.

An aide to Nance said Friday that the judge does not comment publicly on cases.

Maryland Public Defender Paul B. DeWolfe and Levi did not return telephone messages seeking their reaction to Nance’s comments and Rubin’s dismissal of the case.

Rochelle Ritchie, a spokeswoman for Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby, did not return a request for comment as to whether prosecutors will appeal Rubin’s ruling.

In her motion for dismissal, Levi also recounted Nance’s comments to her from the bench.

“From the beginning there have been repeated, repeated, repeated misstatements of fact, sleight of hand, attempts to introduce things in a backdoor manner and taking upon herself to be absolutely disrespectful during the course of this trial,” Nance said. “This court attempted to look past it because it appeared to be a temper tantrum. And, therefore, as youngsters should be, is ignored whenever possible.”

Levi also cited instances outside the jury’s presence at trial when Nance made comments critical of her, including her home county.

“It just perks out all over you,” Nance said. “I just want you to know I have this fondness of Montgomery County. Not. But in any case, get my message?”

“Yes,” Levi responded.

Later, Nance admonished her for asking if he would be permitting Braxton a bathroom break.

“If you stop giving him water, I will be,” Nance said, adding that Levi should stop treating Braxton “like a child.”