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March 31, 2011

Maryland Defense Counsel Must Disclose Alibi Witnesses

alibi.jpgIn McLennan v. State, the Maryland Court of Appeals upheld a circuit court's decision to bar a defendant's use of two alibi witnesses because defense counsel did not provide notice to the State of the required witness under the time requirements of the Maryland Rules. The Rules note a distinction between a defendant's impeachment witnesses and his or her alibi witnesses, and require disclosure of alibi witnesses at least 30 days prior to trial.

As many defendants learn too late in the process, the failure to comply with the Maryland Rules of Criminal Procedure, especially with regard to discovery issues, can bar the defendant from presenting a defense, even if that defense would completely exonerate the accused. Obtaining the services of a Maryland criminal defense attorney that is experienced in the intricacies of the rules of criminal procedure should be the first step for any individual accused of a crime.

In McLennan, the defendant was accused of robbing a pizza deliveryman, and then leaving the scene in a truck driven by a co-defendant. On the day of trial, the defendant learned of two witnesses that could support his claims of innocence by describing where the defendant was before the crime allegedly occurred. Defense counsel informed the Court that the two witnesses would be called, but the Court determined that the witnesses were alibi witnesses, and held that because the rules governing discovery of alibi witnesses were not followed, the witnesses would not be permitted to testify.

The Court of Appeals adopted the Alaska Supreme Court's definition of an alibi witness, holding that "an 'alibi' witness as a witness whose testimony "must tend to prove that it was impossible or highly improbable that [the defendant] was at the scene of the crime when it was alleged to have occurred.'" The Court, in noting that the Maryland Rules lays out a particular procedure for alibi witnesses, rules that the defendant was not denied a fair trial by the circuit court's decision to exclude the witnesses.

In order to present the strongest defense possible to a judge or jury, it is essential to have experienced Maryland criminal defense counsel on the job early. An experienced defense counsel can both to fully investigate the case to determine what possible evidence - alibi or otherwise - might be available for a defense, and to ensure compliance with the Maryland Rules so that client can use every potential defense available.