Matt Kaplan recently obtained an order reversing his client’s murder conviction, a conviction that Mr. Kaplan argued was unjust and unlawful. District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Craig Iscoe replaced the murder conviction with one for manslaughter. As a result, the client’s sentence was reduced from 21 to 8.5 years and, because of time already served, he was immediately released.
The case is United States v. Johnson, No. 2015-CF1-016674. Mr. Kaplan was appointed by the D.C. Court of Appeals to represent Mr. Johnson in September 2017, after his murder conviction. The case was delayed because of the COVID epidemic. It arose from a 2015 gunbattle that left Mr. Johnson severely wounded and another person dead. Mr. Johnson testified at trial that he had fired in self-defense–he believed that he was about to be killed. Mr. Kaplan argued that his client did not get a fair trial because his trial attorney had displayed a manifest lack of competence by not asking for a jury instruction that would have allowed the jury to consider convicting for manslaughter instead of murder. The trial attorney had been disciplined by the Court of Appeals on numerous occasions for improper conduct and was disbarred after Mr. Johnson’s trial because of his actions in a separate matter.
Earlier this year Judge Iscoe held an evidentiary hearing at which Mr. Kaplan called both Mr. Johnson and his trial attorney as witnesses. The testimony at the hearing, which was held pursuant to D.C. Code §23-110, was favorable to Mr. Johnson and, after the hearing, the U.S. Department of Justice (which prosecutes serious crimes in D.C., through the U.S. Attorney’s Office) apparently became convinced that Judge Iscoe would rule against it. The government then agreed to a plea arrangement, subsequently approved by Judge Iscoe, which vacated Mr. Johnson’s murder conviction.
Matthew B. Kaplan is the principal of The Kaplan Law Firm. In addition to litigating civil disputes in trial and appellate courts, he represents criminal defendants in appellate and other post-conviction proceedings.