What happens when a criminal defendant learns that an expert who testified against him does not have the credentials he claimed to have at trial? In an interesting recent case a defendant discovered that a ballistics expert had embellished his credentials after his conviction for first-degree murder, first-degree sexual offense and use of a handgun while committing a violent crime.
The case arose when a woman was visiting her boyfriend’s house. Upstairs her boyfriend and his friend were smoking cocaine. She joined them. Early in the morning the woman told the men she needed to get ready for work. The defendant (her boyfriend’s friend) took out his gun and fired a shot into the floor, asking the boyfriend to give him the cocaine. The defendant hit the boyfriend in the head with the gun and fired another shot.
He tied up the boyfriend and sexually assaulted the woman at gunpoint. When the boyfriend protested, the defendant put him in a closet and continued the sexual assault. When the boyfriend continued to try to stop the assault by getting the closet door open, the defendant hit him again with a gun.
The woman ran outside screaming for help. A neighbor took into a house and called the police. She was taken to the hospital and had an exam. She did not tell the doctor that the defendant had assaulted her vaginally.
Later at trial, a police officer testified that he had gotten the call related to the shooting. He had searched the house and found someone who looked dead in the bedroom upstairs, a rope around a chair, a bullet hole in the floor and in the closet.
Evidence technicians found more. The police officer went next door and found the victim, from whom he got a statement. A detective found various corroborating evidence and testified that the woman identified the defendant as her shooter.
Later a medical examiner testified that the woman’s boyfriend had died of a gunshot wound to the chest. The doctor recovered a bullet and found it was consistent with a close range gunshot. Similarly a ballistics expert testified that the gun residue on the man’s clothes suggested the gun was only 3-4 feet from him.
The defendant testified to a different version of events. He testified that all three smoked cocaine, but said that the decedent had left to buy cocaine. Meanwhile he asked the woman to perform oral sex. The decedent had returned and seen them together and struck both the woman and the defendant. He testified that the woman fired the gunshots and killed her boyfriend. He testified he had gone to stay elsewhere until he turned himself in.
The defendant called his girlfriend to testify on his behalf. She testified she had not previously told police a series of incriminating statements about her boyfriend’s interest in hurting the decedent and sleeping with the woman.
The jury ultimately convicted the defendant. The defendant had a procedural error on his appeal, which was dismissed. He filed several post-conviction petitions, which were unsuccessful. He then filed a petition for writ of actual innocence and request for hearing on the grounds that the ballistics expert had misrepresented himself at trial.
The defendant put forward evidence that the ballistics expert had not graduated from the universities that he claimed to have attended and committed perjury. The defendant argued that this newly discovered evidence created a substantial possibility his trial could have turned out differently. The court found that this evidence was mere “impeachment evidence” that went to credibility, not new evidence with substantial impact.
The defendant appealed this ruling. The appellate court explained that the evidence had to be material. This means that the evidence cannot be cumulative or impeaching. The appellate court found that the lack of college degrees didn’t have anything to do with he accuracy of the expert’s conclusions. Accordingly, it affirmed the ruling.
If you are arrested or charged with a crime, you should consult with an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney. We will develop the best strategy we can to defend your case. Contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.
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