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Paul, Weiss Wins Maryland Appeal for Criminal Defendant, Reducing Sentence, Remanding Case and Creating New Law

Paul, Weiss won a significant constitutional victory in Maryland’s highest court for pro bono client Everette William Johnson.

Under both Article 21 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights and the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, a criminal defendant may not be convicted by a non-unanimous jury. But in a decision on March 14, the Maryland Court of Appeals established that a special jury instruction is required when the prosecution charges a single count but presents evidence of two incidents that jurors might reasonably perceive as separate. Applying the new rule, the Court of Appeals reversed two of Mr. Johnson’s convictions, reducing his 50-year sentence by 30 years and remanding the case.

In their case filed in 2018, prosecutors charged Mr. Johnson with a single count of assault and a single count of use of a firearm in the commission of a crime of violence, along with several other offenses. At trial, the prosecution presented evidence of two different incidents in two different locations, at two separate times, involving two different weapons, and raising two sets of factual and legal issues to prove each count. Prosecutors even told the jury that it could convict Mr. Johnson based on either incident. The trial court refused to provide a special unanimity instruction to the jury, and Mr. Johnson was convicted and sentenced to 50 years in prison.

A Paul, Weiss team, brought into the case via a partnership with the Maryland Public Defender’s office, represented Mr. Johnson on appeal. In February 2021, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals rejected Mr. Johnson’s argument in a split decision. Paul, Weiss successfully sought certiorari from the Maryland Court of Appeals. Briefing and oral argument occurred last fall.

In its 4-3 decision reversing the convictions, the court agreed with the Paul, Weiss team that the constitutional right to a unanimous jury verdict requires the trial court to provide a special unanimity instruction when evidence of more than one reasonably distinguishable incident is offered to prove a single charged count, creating new law in the state.

Paul, Weiss associate Brian Lipshutz presented argument for Mr. Johnson. The Paul, Weiss team also included partner Jeannie Rhee, associates Samuel Prose and Amanda Valerio

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