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Criminal Law

Te reasons for this exclusion of the judgment in a criminal case as evidence of the plaintiff's claim against the traverser are various. Tere is a weighty difference in the parties, objects, issues, procedure, and results in the two proceedings, with different rules with respect to the competency of the witnesses and the relevancy, materiality, and weight of the testimony. Wharton's Criminal Evidence (10th Ed.) §§ 570-570d. In a civil proceeding, the act complained of is the essential element, but in a criminal prosecution it is the intent with which the act is done.

Id. at 811. Te rule survives, intact, in Maryland. See Brooks v. Daley, 218 A.2d 184, 242 Md. 185 (1966)(evidence that defendant was “charged”); Eagan v. Calhoun, 698 A.2d 1097, 347 Md. 72 (1997) (involving plea to manslaughter and subsequent wrongful death suit). A prior criminal conviction is not competent evidence of the underlying facts in a criminal case. See Briggeman v. Albert, 322 Md. 133, 586 A.2d 15 (1991). Even the pre-trial payment of a traffic fine, which is a conviction on that charge, is not admissible as proof of liability. Id. Te rule has also been applied outside the simple

(discussing remoteness). Te Court eventually articulated the well-known concept that an impeaching conviction must be of a nature which relates to untruthfulness.

To admit as possible evidence of a witness' unworthiness of belief the fact that he has been convicted of driving over a stop signal, or making a left-hand turn where it is not permitted, would be unreasonable. Criminal law and criminal procedure are made use of for the enforcement of a large volume of mere regulations of convenience and order, wholly without relation to any moral qualities; and while it may have been less apparent in times past, it is now, at least, inescapable that some discrimination must be made when the courts come to receive evidence of violations to impeach the credibility of a witness.

Nelson v. Seiler, 154 Md. 63, 39 A. 564 (1927). Even after the acknowledgment that “[T]he comparatively

recent multiplication of penal laws to enforce ordinances and statutes enacted under police power gave rise to a large class of offenses whose commission indicated neither moral turpitude, a lawless disposition, nor untruthfulness,” the rule remained well grounded. See General Exchange Ins. Corp. v. Sherby, 165 Md. 1, 165 A. 809 (1933)(evaluating conviction for reckless driving relative to a later civil suit for injuries).

44 Trial Reporter / Summer 2011

question of liability between the parties. Te rule also operates to preclude an insurance carrier from excluding an insured from coverage. In Aetna Casualty & Surety Co. v. Kuhl, 296 Md. 446, 450, 463 A.2d 822 (1983), the Court of Appeals affirmed Court of Special Appeals’ reversal of a declaratory judgment action in which the trial court found that the insured defendant was excluded from the automobile coverage based on the insured defendant’s conviction for assault and battery for the same event. Noting the difference in parties, rules of evidence, and differences in “purposes and objects” of the two proceedings, the admission of certified copies of the convictions was reversible error. However, courts have sanctioned the use of information

from a prior criminal proceeding, which seems to indicate that (at trial at least) the rule may, as a practical matter, be honored more in the breach. One illustration was made clear in Galusca v. Dodd, 189 Md. 666, 57 A.2d 313 (1948). In Galusca, the trial court permitted evidence of a civil defendant’s arrest on an assault charge, the facts of which formed the basis of the civil claim. Te defendant had been convicted of the criminal charge. While acknowledging the rule that the conviction is not admissible to prove the facts of the case, the Court of Appeals determined that the trial court did not commit reversible error because the evidence only related to the arrest and filing of charges, while the conviction was excluded. “Te evidence was which was admitted was not prejudicial to defendant, even if irrelevant.” Id. at 669, 315.

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