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Md. Supreme Court takes up Cecil County case on self-defense, merging of sentences

Md. Supreme Court takes up Cecil County case on self-defense, merging of sentences

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The Maryland Supreme Court agreed Friday to hear a case originating in Cecil County that centers on a self-defense instruction and the merging of sentences for assault and reckless endangerment.

The court granted Aaron Jarvis’ petition for writ of certiorari following the Maryland Appellate Court’s finding that the Cecil County Circuit Court abused its discretion in failing to give an instruction on imperfect self-defense. Though the Appellate Court vacated Jarvis’ sentences for second-degree assault and reckless endangerment, it affirmed his convictions.

The Appellate Court also merged Jarvis’ sentences for second-degree assault and reckless endangerment into his sentence for first-degree assault, due to all of Jarvis’ convictions being based on a single act.

In 2019, Jarvis and his brother-in-law engaged in a heated text exchange about Jarvis’ return of their mother-in-law’s car, according to the appellate opinion. Jarvis’ brother-in-law confronted him at home, cutting off Jarvis, at which point Jarvis took out a knife “because he was afraid of (his brother-in-law), who was ‘quite a bit bigger’ than he.”

When Jarvis’ brother-in-law swung at him, Jarvis ducked and tackled him, wrapped his arms around him, and ultimately stabbed him in the back, according to the opinion.

Jarvis was subsequently charged with attempted first- and second-degree murder, first- and second-degree assault, and reckless endangerment.

During trial, Jarvis requested the trial court instruct the jury on both perfect and imperfect self-defense, to which the trial court rejected instruction on imperfect self-defense.

While perfect self-defense — when there is a reasonable need for self-defense against a violent threat — is available for most violent crimes, imperfect self-defense applies only to murder and attempted murder charges. Imperfect self-defense is a mitigating defense that primarily operates to negate the element of malice, according to the opinion.

The jury acquitted Jarvis of the attempted murder charges but convicted him on the assault and reckless endangerment charges, sentencing him to 15 years with five years suspended for first-degree assault with concurrent five-year sentences for second-degree assault and reckless endangerment.

On appeal, Jarvis argued that he was harmed because, had the jury convicted him of attempted voluntary manslaughter instead, he would have received a shorter sentence. The appellate court, however, rejected this argument, reasoning that an acquittal is a more favorable verdict than a mitigated conviction.

Counsel for the state of Maryland declined to comment because the litigation is pending.

Counsel for Jarvis could not immediately be reached for comment.

The case will be heard by the Maryland Supreme Court in March, according to court filings.


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