ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) – Maryland's highest court heard arguments Thursday for an appeal in the conviction of Dawnta Harris, who was handed a life sentence in the killing of Baltimore County Police Officer Amy Caprio when he was 17.
In May 2018, Officer Caprio responded to a 911 call for a burglary in the Perry Hall neighborhood. Prosecutors said three teens burglarized a home on Linwen Way while Harris waited outside in a getaway car, a stolen Jeep Wrangler.
Investigators said Officer Caprio used her patrol car to partially block the cul-de-sac then demanded Harris, 16, to exit the vehicle, but he refused.
Police body camera video showed the officer then drawing her gun, pointing it at the driver and again, calling for Harris to get out of the Jeep. That's when the teen hit the gas and ran her over. Caprio fired one shot, which hit the windshield.
She later died at the hospital.
In May 2019, just shy of a year after the deadly encounter, Harris was convicted of felony murder, first-degree burglary of the home on Linwen Way and the theft of the Jeep. The other three teens pleaded guilty to felony murder charges in June 2019.
Harris was sentenced to life in prison in August 2019.
Seven judges with the Maryland Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in Harris' appeal to vacate his conviction. There were two main points used.
First, the appeal argues Harris' youth was not properly taken into consideration when he was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole. The appeal states that this includes the developmental and cognitive differences between juveniles and adults and the "diminished culpability of a juvenile offender."
The argument is that without consideration of those factors, the life sentence is "unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment" in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article 25 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights.
Secondly, the appeal argues the statute used to convict Harris should not have been felony murder. The appellant believes the manslaughter-by-vehicle statute preempts a charge of felony murder when a motor vehicle is involved.
The state asked the judges to reaffirm the original findings in this case and conviction.
A Maryland Court of Appeals spokesperson said there is no exact timeframe for when an opinion could be handed down on this appeal. However, opinions are typically completed within the Court of Appeals' term where oral arguments were heard.
The terms are September through June each year. All opinions are to be completed by Aug. 31.
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