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In criminal prosecutions the police focus much of their efforts on obtaining physical evidence to link a suspect to the crime. We have all seen fictional portrayals of the police interview where they confront the suspect and get a confession.
Sometimes the police interview can provide enough to support a conviction even without the perpetrator admitting guilt, as illustrated by an unreported opinion issued last week by Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals in a case called Allen Watkins Hicks v. State of Maryland.
The opinion indicates that the victim was a school teacher, who left the school late one evening and was accosted on the way to her car by a masked man, who struck her and put her into a vehicle. The victim then suffered through a terrible ordeal in which she was kidnapped and repeatedly sexually assaulted. To her great credit, she told the police she was determined to remember everything she could to be able to identify her assailant if she survived, which thankfully she did.
The victim said that her body had been washed off by her assailant, so no DNA evidence could be found on her body. However, she was able to describe in detail the rapist’s clothes, shoes and particularly a special type of gloves he was wearing. Hicks worked for a company that had worked at the school, and he had those special gloves in his home. Police focused on Hicks because of a prior rape conviction, and matched his cell phone to a call to the school on the day of these events where the caller asked what time school would adjourn. Cell phone evidence also placed Hicks near the school at the time of the crimes.
After police arrested Hicks, the Court found that he did waive his right to remain silent, and agreed to a police interview. At one point, the detective pointed out that at no time during their discussion had Hicks denied raping the victim. He responded by saying “what do you think I am going to say?” When asked point blank if he had raped the woman, he said “I don’t know, I don’t know,” and refused to Answer any more questions.
The appellate Court upheld the conviction, ruling that Hicks had voluntarily agreed to answer questions and his statements prior to terminating the interview were properly admitted.
This illustrates how circumstantial evidence, with statements from the accused that are short of an actual conviction, can support a criminal conviction.
Thomas Patrick Ryan is a partner in the Rockville law firm of McCarthy Wilson, which specializes in civil litigation.