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Md. high court: Post-Miranda statements can be used to impeach

Defendants’ voluntary statements to police after invoking their right to remain silent can be used to impeach their contrasting testimony at trial, Maryland’s top court unanimously ruled Monday in upholding the first-degree murder conviction and life sentence of a man who chose to take the stand in his own defense.

The Court of Appeals’ decision leaves intact the prohibition on prosecutors’ using defendants’ post-invocation statements – or even their silence – as evidence to prove guilt.

In its 7-0 ruling, the court said prosecutors validly cross-examined Clement Reynolds’ in-court testimony he was in New York by citing his statement to police that he was in the Virgin Islands during the Silver Spring slaying for which he was on trial. The prosecution also properly noted discrepancies between the names of alibi witnesses he provided to police and those he mentioned on the stand, the high court added.

The Court of Appeals’ ruling marks its latest foray into the contours of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1966 decision in Miranda v. Arizona, a case well known to viewers of television crime dramas for its admonition that police officers tell those in custody they have the right to remain silent.

“In the event that officers continue to question an individual, any evidence flowing therefrom is illegally obtained and thus subject to exclusion as fruit of the unlawful conduct,” Judge Michele D. Hotten wrote for the Court of Appeals. “The caveat to generally excluding statements in violation of Miranda allows the evidence to be used for impeachment purposes.”

Hotten explained the distinction between evidence and impeachment by quoting from the Court of Appeals’ 1998 decision in Wright v. State.

“Allowing statements elicited in violation of Miranda for impeachment purposes, but not as substantive evidence, strikes a ‘pragmatic balance between two competing public policies – the exclusionary rule precluding the use of confessions obtained in violation of Miranda, on the one hand, and not giving defendants a free ride to commit perjury,’” she wrote.

Robert S. Bonsib, Reynolds’ attorney, said the court’s decision was the latest in a line of rulings essentially permitting police – in violation of the spirit of Miranda – to question suspects who have invoked their right to silence in hopes of eliciting statements that can be used to impeach them at trial.

“Someday some court is going to have to rein in this purposeful violation of Miranda by police,” said Bonsib, of MarcusBonsib LLC in Greenbelt. “At some point, the courts are going to have to slap this down.”

The Maryland attorney general’s office said in a statement that it “is pleased with the court’s decision.”

Changing alibi

Reynolds was arrested in April 2014 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York in connection with the shooting death 12 years earlier of Wesley King 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, post-Miranda interrogation by Montgomery County detectives, Reynolds mentioned Rose Lopez and Byron Matamora as witnesses to his presence in the Virgin Islands at the time of the Silver Spring slaying, according to court papers.

But at his January 2015 trial in Montgomery County Circuit Court, Reynolds named two different witnesses, Karlene Gill and Carolene George, who could vouch he was in New York when King was killed.

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. Reynolds then sought review by the high court, arguing in vain that his invocation of his right to remain silent was violated by the use at trial of his statements to police.

The court rendered its decision in Clement Reynolds v. State of Maryland, No. 84 September Term 2017.

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