Appeals case about Knupp hit-and-run charges sees arguments over court code
By Hunter Hine, Staff Writer
(Nov. 30, 2023) The appeals case of Tyler Mailloux, 23, of Berlin, continues moving forward with the filing of an appellee brief that argues the state’s attorney charged the defendant in the wrong court.
On Nov. 17, the Appellate Court of Maryland filed received brief from Mailloux’s defense team, Natasha Dartigue, public defender from the state’s appellate division, and Celia Anderson Davis, an assistant public defender.
In the document, the two assert that Dorchester County Circuit Court Judge Brett W. Wilson correctly dismissed all 17 of the counts Mailloux faced after Worcester County State’s Attorney Kristin Heiser charged him as the driver in the hit-and-run that killed Gavin Knupp, 14, of Ocean Pines in July 2022.
Wilson decided to dismiss the charges at a motions hearing on Aug. 18 at the Worcester County Circuit Court in Snow Hill. The dismiss came ahead of the September trial date in the case, thus removing it from the docket.
Four of the 17 charges against Mailloux were felonies, and two carried a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. All the charges were related to Mailloux’s alleged failure to stop at the scene or report it later.
At the hearing in August, Wilson agreed with Mailloux’s attorney, George Psoras Jr., of Rice Murtha & Psoras LLC in Lutherville, who filed a motion to dismiss the charges based on the claim that Worcester County District Court had “exclusive original jurisdiction” over the first eight counts, which are classified as violations of Maryland’s Transportation Code.
Wilson cited a section from the Maryland Code’s Courts and Judicial Proceedings article that said district court holds exclusive original jurisdiction over these types of violations, whether they are a felony or misdemeanor.
By Wilson’s reasoning, prosecutors should have filed the charges in district court first instead of going straight to circuit court.
The Worcester County State’s Attorney’s Office filed an appeal of the decision the same day.
The appellee brief further declares the validity of Wilson’s decision and rebuts an appellant brief from Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown that outlines the state’s objection to the dismissal of charges, which was filed into the appeals case on Oct. 19.
In the new brief, Mailloux’s defense says that the state is basing its argument on section 4-302(d)(1) of Maryland’s Courts and Judicial Proceedings article, which says that district court has concurrent jurisdiction with circuit court when the penalty of a charge is three or more years in prison or a $2,500 or greater fine.
Counts one through eight met that threshold, according to the state’s appellant brief from October. With concurrent jurisdiction, the charges could have been filed in either court at the prosecutor’s discretion.
Mailloux’s attorneys have base their counter-argument on section 4-301(b)(17) of the same courts article, which says that district court has exclusive original jurisdiction over both felony and misdemeanor charges against anyone 18-years-old or over who is charged with a violation of the transportation article.
The public defenders say in the brief that section 4-301(a) further helps their case since it says district court has exclusive original jurisdiction over vehicle law violations when the defendant is at least 16 years old.
“This court is tasked with determining which of the two statutes takes precedence at the charging stage,” according to Mailloux’s appellee brief.
The defense says that since 4-301 is the “first and more specific” of the two sections should take precedence and supersede the exception given to charges that meet the penalty threshold outlined in 4-302.
“The state would have the exception swallow the rule,” according to the brief from Mailloux’s lawyers.
Arguments in the brief also say that prosecutors stripped Mailloux of his Fourteenth Amendment right to a fair trial by filing the charges in circuit court.
If prosecutors had originally charged Mailloux in district court, he would have had the choice to continue the trial in district court or move the case into circuit court for a judge or jury trial. Defense attorneys claim that the state deprived Mailloux of his right to choose by deciding for him.
“Given Maryland’s two-tiered trial court system, there could have been concurrent jurisdiction for trial of the misdemeanors and felonies charged, but not for charging them,” according to the defense’s brief.