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Can Legal Conduct Still Constitute A Crime?

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In most situations, a person commits a crime when they engage in conduct that is unlawful. However, there are some situations where behavior that would otherwise be perfectly legal can constitute a crime, because the person acting in that manner intends to do so for an illegal or otherwise malevolent reason. An opinion out of the Maryland Court of Appeals illuminates one good example, where entering into a marriage – normally a perfectly legal choice – was held to have constituted a crime.

Court Of Appeals Upholds Convictions

In 2019, defendant Darrayl John Wilson was on trial for the murder of Heather Anderson, along with another man, Raymond Posey. While incarcerated and awaiting trial, Wilson began telling his girlfriend, Kearra Bannister, that he wanted to marry her – explicitly so that she could invoke the spousal privilege granted under Maryland law, and refuse to testify at his and Posey’s trials (despite the spousal privilege not applying in Posey’s trial if she married Wilson). Bannister and Wilson did marry, via telephone, 18 days before the beginning of Wilson’s murder trial.

Bannister attempted to invoke the spousal privilege in Posey’s trial, and was told she could not; in Wilson’s trial, the prosecution filed a motion preemptively to block Bannister from asserting the spousal privilege. The court in Wilson granted that motion, and Wilson later pled guilty. However, the State then charged Wilson with witness tampering and obstruction of justice in both Wilson and Posey, arguing that Wilson’s intent to marry his girlfriend was ‘corrupt,’ constituting malicious intent. Wilson was found guilty with regard to his own case, though not guilty in the counts related to Posey. Both parties appealed.

The Maryland statutes governing witness tampering and obstruction of justice require “corrupt means” to achieve their ends, and it was the contention of Wilson’s camp that since entering into a marriage is a legal act (unless one is already married), it could not have constituted “corrupt means.” Wilson argued that he was simply engaging in the same right held by any person, and if it yielded the additional benefit that his wife was unable to testify against him, it had to be considered a mere bonus of sorts.

The Court of Appeals disagreed, however; since no Maryland statute defines the term “corrupt means,” the court used the plain meaning of the statute to determine that, in accordance with state precedent, one can include some instances of legal conduct in “corrupt means” if the specific facts of the situation warrant doing so. Since Wilson and Bannister both admitted that their marriage happened because both of them wanted Bannister to refuse to testify at trial, the court reasonably held that while entering into a marriage was legal, the reason for doing so was not. The case was remanded, with the instruction to uphold the original verdict – Wilson was guilty in his own case, and not guilty in the case of Mr. Posey.

Contact A Maryland Criminal Defense Attorney

Any kind of criminal conviction can negatively impact your life, even if the crime is nonviolent. Contacting a Maryland criminal defense attorney at the firm of Henault & Sysko Chartered can be the first step toward ensuring that your rights are protected in court. Our firm has years of experience in these cases, and we are happy to try and put our knowledge to work for you. Contact our offices today at (410) 768-9300 to speak to an attorney.

Sources:

mdcourts.gov/data/opinions/coa/2020/64a19.pdf

courtlistener.com/opinion/3486646/romans-v-state-of-maryland/

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