The fact that a suspect flees from the police, under Maryland law, does not prove that the accused is guilty of the crime or crimes charged. However, under certain circumstances the prosecution is entitled to a jury instruction explaining that flight may be considered as evidence of guilt.
When such an instruction is appropriate was explored in a recent unreported opinion from Maryland’s intermediate appellate court in a case called Shawn Batten v. State of Maryland.
At trial, the victim testified that she saw the defendant and family members in her leased home one day, whereupon she was told they were subcontractors there to work. Late that night, a masked intruder entered the home, demanded money and drugs from the victim and struck her with a handgun. When the intruder fled and the victim chased him, he fired two shots at her and missed.
After an investigation, the police went to the defendant’s home with an arrest warrant the suspect fled by vehicle, sped away from an attempted road block and left the vehicle and fled on foot before he was arrested.
A gun, which matched that which was fired at the victim, was recovered in the defendant’s vehicle. A tape of defendant’s jailhouse call to his wife included him saying there was no way to beat the gun charge and the defendant also testified at trial that he fled because the police had recently shot a woman and he was afraid. After the trial judge gave the jury a flight instruction the defendant was convicted of attempted second-degree murder and other crimes, and he appealed.
The Court of Special Appeals reiterated that while flight alone does not prove guilt, it may be evidence of defendant’s consciousness of guilt. Such a jury instruction is appropriate when 1) the behavior of the defendant supports that he fled from the police, 2) defendant’s flight suggests consciousness of guilt, 3) the consciousness of guilt related to crimes charged or closely related crimes and 4) such consciousness of guilt suggests defendant is actually guilty.
Here, the court agreed that on these facts the jury could conclude that defendant’s flight from police met this test and such a jury instruction was appropriate, and also noted that the evidence of guilt was so overwhelming that any error in giving the instruction was harmless.
Thomas Patrick Ryan is a partner in the Rockville law firm of McCarthy Wilson, which specializes in civil litigation.