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Md. high court weighs state’s questioning of defendant’s silence

Court considers convicted killer's constitutional claim

Md. high court weighs state’s questioning of defendant’s silence

Court considers convicted killer's constitutional claim

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Prosecutors violated the constitutional rights of a subsequently convicted first-degree murderer by questioning him at trial about what he did not tell police after invoking his right to remain silent, a defense attorney told Maryland’s top court Tuesday.

Robert C. Bonsib said the prosecution’s questioning of Clement Reynolds’ silence, in the jury’s presence, undermined his privilege against self-incrimination and his right to due process.

“Silence is golden under the Constitution,” Bonsib told the Court of Appeals. “That gold veneer was tarnished.”

Assistant Maryland Attorney General Sarah Page Pritzlaff countered the prosecution’s questions were a valid effort to impeach Reynolds’ trial testimony naming alibi witnesses he did not mention to investigators who questioned him about the 2002 slaying.

“He was not silent about the murder” when questioned by officers, Pritzlaff said, adding that Reynolds told them that “I’m not the guy.”

The seven-judge high court sat largely silent during the arguments that addressed the scope of the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment and similar privileges and rights in Articles 22 and 24 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights.

The Court of Appeals is expected to render its decision by Aug. 31 in the case, Clement Reynolds v. State of Maryland, No. 84 September Term 2017.

Reynolds was arrested in April 2014 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York in connection with the shooting death Wesley King 12 years earlier outside his Silver Spring apartment. Reynolds was using a passport with the name “Dennis Graham,” an alias he had adopted when he emerged as a suspect shortly after King’s death, police said.

During a post-arrest interrogation by Montgomery County detectives, Reynolds mentioned Rose Lopez and Byron Matamora as witnesses to his presence in New York at the time of the Silver Spring slaying, according to court papers. Reynolds subsequently invoked his constitutional right to remain silent.

At his January 2015 trial in Montgomery County Circuit Court, Reynolds presented three other witnesses, Simone Smith, Karlene Gill and Carolene George.

In cross-examining Reynolds at the trial, the prosecution noted the absence of these names from his conversation with police and questioned him about what he did not tell the officers, specifically asking, “You never said anything about Carolene George?” and “You’ve never mentioned the alibi to the police?”

Defense counsel objected to the questioning of what Reynolds did not tell police. The judge neither ruled on the objection nor instructed the jury to disregard the questions but simply told the prosecution to move on, according to court papers.

The jury found Reynolds guilty of first-degree murder, as well as conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and possession of a handgun in a crime of violence. He was sentenced to life in prison.

The Court of Special Appeals upheld the conviction and sentence in an unreported opinion in November.

Pressing Reynolds’ high-court appeal Tuesday, Bonsib said his client “didn’t have to say why he didn’t say certain things” to the police.

“He’s got a Fifth Amendment privilege to decide when he wants to say and when he doesn’t want to say,” said Bonsib, of MarcusBonsib LLC in Greenbelt.

Pritzlaff responded prosecutors validly questioned Reynolds about why he had told the police of some alibi witnesses but did not mention others until his trial testimony.

“We don’t have silence after silence here,” Pritzlaff told the high court.

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