As an Aggressive and Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney and former Assistant State’s Attorney, I have prosecuted and defended well over a thousand First and Second Degree Assault Cases. These serious cases can carry substantial penalties to include lengthy jail sentences upon conviction – particularly when a serious injury is involved. The maximum penalties are 25 years and 10 years respectively. Many people are shocked to learn that second degree assault carries such a long jail sentence in spite of it being a misdemeanor.
I recently secured an acquittal for a Maryland school teacher who was charged in such as case. The incident, which I will describe below, resulted in the alleged victim sustaining a traumatic brain injury and was charged as a First Degree Assault. Needless to say, given the serious injury to the victim, the State was aggressively prosecuting the case. He are the facts:
My client is a school teacher who lives in Baltimore County but teaches in another jurisdiction. He lives in a relatively rural part of the county on which the houses occupy lots of 2 acres or more. One Saturday this past summer, my client and his wife hosted a first birthday party for one of their children. This child had been diagnosed at birth with a life threatening and chronic health issue so the celebration was particularly heartfelt for him and his family.
The party during the day was fairly large but by nightfall, all but a few family members had left. By 10pm only 6 adults and 5 or 6 children remained. The adults were sitting on the back patio talking and the children were being children so they weren’t quite as mice. It was at this point that a woman who lived in the house immediately behind my client, albeit more than a football field away, walked onto my client’s property and right up to his back deck to complain about the children being too loud. This neighbor had complained about noise in the past when, as in this instance, they were doing nothing other than enjoying their property in a perfectly typical and lawful manner. It was not late, there was no loud music or any other loud disturbances. My client rightly believed that this neighbor was again being unreasonable in her demands for complete silence at 10pm on a Saturday night. He told her he was tired of her ridiculous demands and asked her to get off of his property. He advised her to call the police if she believed he was violating noise ordinances. He was confident that he was not.
At this point some unpleasant words were exchanged and she left the property only to return in a few minutes with her husband. My client left the patio and intercepted the couple at the border of his property line to prevent them from causing a disturbance in front of the children. According to my client and 2 other witnesses, the husband was irate and began threatening my client. My client’s wife came to the property line and tried to intervene and plead for calm. SHe advised the two that it was their child’s first birthday celebration. Everyone on both sides agrees with these basic facts but there was sharp disagreement as to what occurred next.
According to the alleged victim and his wife, my client just punched him at this point with no provocation other than some unpleasant words. According to my client, his wife and one other family member, the alleged victim reacted to my client’s wife’s pleas for calm by lunging at her with his hand raised just inches from her face and screamed “fuck your kid”. My client saw this enraged man lunging at his wife and he reacted in her defense. He hit the man one time in the face knocking him to the ground. Unfortunately, he struck his head on a rock and suffered a subdural hematoma. He was hospitalized for months and spent several weeks in a coma. The doctors had to remove part of his skull to alleviate the pressure and he is left with permanent neurological and physical problems. It was a tragic result and certainly not something my client intended or anticipated when he defended his wife.
The case went to trial and we pursued a “defense of others” strategy. Most people are familiar with self-defense and defense of others is very similar. The doctrine states that: “Any person witnessing a violent assault upon the person of another may lawfully aid the person being assaulted by assisting in that person’s defense. The force exerted upon the attacker or attackers by the person witnessing the assault may be that degree of force which the assaulted person is allowed to assert in defending himself.” In other words, as in a traditional self-defense case, a person may use that force which is necessary to repel the attack but not more.
Because of the extent of the injuries to the alleged victim, we elected a judge trial instead of a jury trial. Our fear was that a jury would not be able to reconcile the understandable sympathy that they would have for this person because of his injuries with their duty to strict application of the law. The evidence in trial came out essentially as described above. In his summation, the judge vindicated our decision to waive a jury by first addressing our major concern about going with a jury. He began by discussing his obligation as a judge to apply the law and explaining that he could not allow the genuine sympathy he had for the alleged victim to interfere with that obligation.
The judge went on to agree that my client and his family were lawfully utilizing their property and that the victim’s wife had no right to interfere with their activities. He noted that once the disagreement occurred, my client repeatedly told her to leave his property and to call the police if she believed he was committing a crime. She chose not to do it and instead came back with her husband to aggressively confront my client on his property. The judge ruled that as a matter of law, it was reasonable for my client to fear that his wife may have been about to be assaulted in the split second that this occurred. Finally, he ruled that my client used only that force which was necessary to protect his wife, the resulting injury to the alleged victim notwithstanding.
Needless to say this result was a huge relief to my client who could have gone to jail and certainly would have lost his job as a teacher if he was convicted and could. He still feels tremendous sympathy for his neighbor because of the tragic injury that he received but he now knows that he was not legally responsible for that injury.