A Silver Spring woman was sentenced yesterday to six months in jail for refusing to testify against her father, who is on trial in Montgomery County Circuit Court in the slaying of his wife.
Had she testified, her attorney said later, Nancy Choi, 18, of Silver Spring would have been forced to incriminate herself by contradicting a witness statement she gave to police on the night that her mother was shot to death.
For the second time in her father's trial, Choi invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self- incrimination yesterday under questioning by Assistant State's Attorney Barry A. Hamilton. Judge Richard B. Latham imposed the six-month sentence for contempt but released Choi on her own recognizance pending her appeal.
Latham had cited Choi for contempt Thursday, when she first refused to testify against her father, Tae-Sun Choi, who allegedly shot his wife, Sook Yuen Choi, at their Silver Spring home Jan. 4.
Tae-Sun Choi has pleaded not guilty to murder, saying he shot his wife twice in self-defense after she threatened him with a knife.
If Nancy Choi were to testify truthfully about the night of the killing, she would in effect be admitting that she made a false statement to police, according to her attorney, Paul F. Kemp of Rockville. He said that this admission would expose her to a possible misdemeanor charge.
Latham's ruling against her hinged on testimony she gave Thursday.
In initial questioning, Hamilton asked her how long a cousin had been living with the family. She replied: "Since the accident." Later, when asked about the shooting, Choi invoked her Fifth Amendment right.
But Latham ruled that Choi already had begun to testify about her perception of the killing by characterizing it as an "accident." He said that this testimony constituted a waiver of her Fifth Amendment privilege.
A witness is not allowed to invoke the Fifth Amendment after giving partial testimony. But Kemp said his client had meant to use the word "incident," a more neutral term than "accident." Kemp said he will make that argument to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.
In her Jan. 4 statement to police, Choi said she was upstairs with her 15-year-old brother Michael when they heard a gunshot. She said they rushed downstairs and found their mother on the kitchen floor, bleeding.
Choi told police she believed that she heard her mother tell them to leave the house. As she and her brother rushed from the kitchen, she said, their father closed the kitchen door behind them.
Seconds later, on her way out of the house with her brother, Choi said in her statement, she heard a second gunshot. Kemp said that some aspect of her police statement is untrue, but he would not elaborate.