Maryland law has long held that a person could not be convicted of a crime based solely upon the testimony of an alleged accomplice to the crime, without some other corroborating evidence. In August, by a 5-2 vote the Court of Appeals ruled that, going forward, that rule was abolished. What type of corroboration the court had required is illustrated by a recent unreported opinion from the Court of Special Appeals in a case called Richard D. Moise v. State of Maryland.
The appellate opinion indicates that two masked men robbed a beer and wine store at gunpoint, making off with cash and packets of lottery tickets. Several days later a lottery investigator reported to police that someone had tried to cash one of the stolen tickets, and store video surveillance led to identification of an accomplice and a white vehicle that matches Moise’s car. Execution of a search warrant on the vehicle led to discovery of an incriminating lottery ticket in the car.
At trial, the accomplice, who had pled guilty, implicated Moise in the robbery, and over objection the lottery ticket found in the defendant’s car was admitted in evidence. The jury convicted the defendant of robbery, reckless endangerment and conspiracy, he appealed the admission of the lottery ticket. The appellate court agreed that without the lottery ticket, under the old corroboration rule which was applicable at the time of this case there was no corroborating evidence to support the accomplice’s testimony. Here, the court found, the lottery ticket alone was sufficient to support the accomplice’s implication of the defendant, if believed by a jury.
Going forward, under State v. Jones, the Court of Appeals has now done away with the accomplice corroboration rule. The court held that Maryland law no longer requires that the testimony of an accomplice be supported by some independent evidence to support a conviction. So long as a jury is properly instructed that an accomplice’s testimony may possibly be unreliable (since such persons may very well have pled guilty to the crime), such evidence as a lottery ticket is no longer required. The jury now has the right to weigh the credibility of the accomplice alone in deciding the defendant’s guilt.
Thomas Patrick Ryan is a partner in the Rockville law firm of McCarthy Wilson, which specializes in civil litigation.