A Baltimore man's 30-year combined federal sentence, once held up as a major law enforcement success, was overturned Friday, along with two of his three convictions when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit Court ruled that Collin Hawkins deserved another day in court.
Hawkins, 27, was convicted last year on three charges that should not have been tried together, the judges said.
Consequently, they remanded his carjacking and gun possession convictions to Baltimore U.S. District Court for a new trial. The judges also ordered that Hawkins be resentenced on a third conviction of being a felon in possession of a gun, which carried a 10-year term, because that sentence was based in part on the other two.
"Had the three offenses not been joined for trial, Count III's prejudicial evidence would not have reached the jury, and Hawkins might well have been acquitted of Counts I and II," said the opinion, filed Friday.
Hawkins, a professed drug dealer, was charged with the armed carjacking of a Sedan Service car in November 2006 after the driver identified him. In a separate incident in December of that year, he was arrested for illegally carrying a handgun, which he admitted to.
As evidence, that admission was "overwhelming," the judges wrote, while the driver's identification of Hawkins in the other circumstance was not. "It is possible that the jury found him guilty of that [carjacking] crime under the rationale that with so much smoke there must be fire," the opinion said, quoting other court papers.
Two judges joined in the written opinion and a third concurred, but pointed out that the appeals court's approach to rules of procedure might have "precipitated the error." The judges have long held that "even highly prejudicial" evidence of bad acts is admissible unless there are extraordinary circumstances.
The caveat might have lessened the sting for the judge whose work was overturned. Andre M. Davis presided over the 2008 trial as a U.S. District Court judge, but he's recently been appointed to the 4th Circuit himself. Davis did not contribute to the ruling.
The Maryland U.S. Attorney's Office, which must decide whether to retry the two vacated convictions, declined to comment.
Hawkins' attorney, Sicilia Englert, called the ruling a "win." "We think the court made the right decision," she said Friday evening.
In June last year, Baltimore police officers and agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives handed out pictures of Hawkins on orange fliers at The Alameda shopping center, trumpeting his lengthy sentence as an example of what criminals can expect.