Maryland men convicted of murder in the '70s may get new trial

Maryland men convicted of murder in the '70s may get new trial

Two Maryland men, both convicted of violent crimes in the 1970s, may have a second chance to defend themselves in court. This comes after a 2012 ruling by the Maryland Court of Appeals opened the door for pre-1980s cases to be retried, on the grounds that many of those proceedings were undertaken improperly.

Before 1980, Maryland judges routinely told jurors that the things they, the judge, said about the law were “advisory only.” Jurors were told that they were “judges of the law.” This action, apparently meant to avoid bias, may have contaminated the jury’s decision making by allowing them to ignore legal standards. A 2012 Maryland Court of Appeals decision upheld this viewpoint, declaring that the “advisory only” jury instruction was unconstitutional. The Court also ruled that trials held before 1980 could be reheard.

Two men, convicted of separate murders in 1973 and 1976, are appealing their cases based on the Court of Appeals decision. They say they did not receive their constitutionally guaranteed fair trial because their jury was given advisory only legal instructions. Approximately 200 other people in Maryland are serving sentences handed down before 1980; they, too, could be entitled to new trials.

At this point, it is unclear whether a new trial will have any effect on the future of these two men. After all, just because they get a second chance to defend themselves does not mean the second result will be any different from the first. But it is important that they receive a new, fair trial because that is their constitutional right. And when a defendant’s constitutional rights have been violated, attorneys and judges involved in the case must make every effort possible to ensure that the wrong is righted.

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