Wednesday, May 4, 2016
Court of Appeals of Maryland Throws Out Sexual Abuse Convictions Based on Failure to Satisfy Corpus Delicti Rule
The Latin term “corpus delicti” translates into the “body of the crime” and refers to “[t]he fact of a transgression; ACTUS REUS.”... The corpus delicti for the crime of sexual abuse of a minor, pursuant to § 3-602 of the Criminal Law Article, is evidence of sexual molestation or exploitation of a minor. The “corpus delicti rule” is a “doctrine that in order to secure a conviction, the prosecution must establish the corpus delicti with corroborating evidence.  The doctrine prohibits the prosecution from proving the corpus delicti based solely on a defendant’s extrajudicial statements.”
This quote comes from today's opinion by the Court of Appeals of Maryland in Grimm v. State. Because the State failed to satisfy the corpus delicti rule, the Court reversed Grimm's conviction. Do you agree?
Quentin Anthony Grimm (“the alleged victim” or “Quentin”) moved in with his biological father, John Grimm, and his stepmother, Angela Ann Grimm (“Petitioner”), in 2009 when Quentin was sixteen years old.
Subsequently, "a deputy assigned to a local high school came into possession of an anonymous letter that raised concerns about the relationship between Quentin and Petitioner." As a result,
On February 6, 2013, Detectives Nogle and Jared Barnhart interviewed Petitioner. The session was audio and video recorded. When Detective Nogle showed Petitioner the anonymous letter, she immediately confessed that she did not know the paternity of her two year old son, Logan. Petitioner admitted that she had had a sexual relationship with her stepson, which began shortly after he moved in when he was sixteen years old, and that the relationship ended a couple months prior to the interview. As a result of that relationship, Petitioner stated that she was unsure of the paternity of her two youngest children, but that she suspected Quentin was Logan’s father. Petitioner further confessed that she had sexual intercourse five to ten times with her stepson. The detectives provided Petitioner with several pages of Facebook communications between Quentin and “Faith Evans.” When asked whether Petitioner was Faith Evans, she responded affirmatively.
Based on this confession, the Petitioner was with various sexual misconduct crimes, including sexual abuse of a minor. At trial, however, Quentin testified as follows:
Q. Now, after moving back to Maryland into a residence with the Defendant and other persons did there come a time when you began a relationship, sexual relationship, with Angela Grimm?
A. I don’t remember.
Q. You don’t remember anything?
Q. Okay. Well do you remember speaking with Detective Nogle and Detective Barnhart earlier this year?
Q. You don’t remember that?
Q. Do you remember telling them you thought Logan was your child?
Q. Okay. But you remember Logan, right?
Q. Who is Logan?
A. My little brother.
Q. Okay. So now he’s your little brother and earlier this year he was possibly your son. Is that what you said?
A. No, I don’t remember saying that.
Q. So, the only answers you’re going to give today is you don’t remember anything about your relationship with Angela Grimm back in 2010, 2009, [and] 2011?
Q. Have you ever had sexual intercourse with Angela Grimm?
A. No, I don’t remember.
Q. You said no. Is that – – You never had sexual intercourse with Angela Grimm?
A. I don’t remember.
Q. Mr. Grimm, are you telling us the truth today?
Q. Um hum. Court’s indulgence. How would you describe your relationship with Angela Grimm?
A. I don’t remember
Today, however, the Court of Appeals of Maryland reversed that conviction, concluding that
the State failed to satisfy the rule of corroboration for extrajudicial confessions. As mentioned above, Quentin’s testimony corroborated two elements of the crime of sexual abuse of a minor, but his responses did not corroborate the major or essential element: sexual abuse. Quentin’s assertion that he could not recall, among other things, whether he had ever had a sexual relationship or intercourse with Petitioner, was not sufficient evidence to corroborate that the alleged act(s) did, in fact, occur. In other words, the alleged victim’s responses did not constitute substantive evidence that Petitioner had sexually abused him. Fatal to the State’s case is the absence of any other independent circumstantial or direct evidence corroborating the “essential” harm to Quentin, i.e., sexual abuse.
Under the corpus delicti rule, this was likely the only outcome that Maryland's highest court could have reached. And, on one level, the ruling makes all the sense in the world. Many wrongful convictions are based upon false confessions, and the corpus delicti rule accordingly requires something in the way of corroboration of a confession.
On the other hand, when you look at the actual facts of the Grimm case, it seems pretty clear that Quentin was not forgetful and instead was testifying in a manner that would protect his stepmother. You could imagine the same thing taking place in a domestic violence case. But how do you avoid these bad outcomes while maintaining the corpus delicti rule in cases in which it looks like there was a false confession?