Television has popularized and glamorized the work of police crime lab workers. However, just like the actors on your favorite crime scene investigation shows, workers in real-life police crime labs come and go. This means that, sometimes, the person who creates a DNA analysis report may not be the one whom the state uses to testify in a criminal trial. When that happens, it creates the potential for a violation of the accused’s constitutional rights to occur… specifically, the accused’s right to confront witnesses. Whether your case calls for examining a report author or challenging a Confrontation Clause violation (or both), a skilled Maryland criminal defense lawyer can be crucial to protecting your rights fully, and putting on the most effective defense possible.
A homicide case from Prince George’s County illustrates what you can do when the process does not function correctly.
The victim was an 18-year-old whom police officers found shot dead inside a Greenbelt apartment. No witnesses saw the shooting. Nevertheless, the state brought first-degree murder charges against T.B. The prosecution asserted that, when the gun went off, the shooter suffered a nick and left his blood at the scene…and that the DNA sample from that blood matched T.B.’s DNA.
M.S., one of the DNA analysts at the Prince George’s County Police Department’s crime lab, prepared the report purportedly tying T.B. to the crime scene. However, she had left that job by the time T.B. went on trial, so the state called a different analyst to testify. His testimony included giving opinions about the conclusions the previous analyst had reached in her report.
The accused man’s lawyer promptly objected, arguing that allowing the proof before the jury violated T.B.’s Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses. The trial judge denied the objection. Ultimately, the jury convicted T.B. and he was sentenced to life plus 10 years.
DNA Analysis Reports as ‘Testimonial’ Evidence
The appeals court, however, agreed with the defense that allowing the evidence constituted a Confrontation Clause violation. The key to the defense’s success was the nature of the report. (As an accused person, you have greater Confrontation Clause rights if a report like this one is deemed to be “testimonial” in nature.)
The court, in reaching its conclusion, noted that Maryland’s highest court previously declared that “a statement contained in a scientific report is testimonial if… the primary purpose for the creation of the report was to establish or prove past events potentially relevant to later criminal prosecution.” If a report meets this definition of “testimonial,” then the “report (and/or testimony relaying the information set forth in the report…) is inadmissible” unless the creator was unable to testify and the defense had a chance to cross-examine the creator.
The prosecution may seek to circumvent potential Sixth Amendment problems by calling reviewers of a crucial DNA report. It’s important to note – as the court in T.B.’s case pointed out – that calling an “administrative reviewer” of a report instead of a “technical reviewer” is insufficient to satisfy the Confrontation Clause and, furthermore, calling a technical reviewer is still inadequate “unless the reviewer’s adoption of a report’s results and conclusions is based on a complete review of the same data the primary author used, and [made] as part of the process of finalizing and releasing the report.”
That didn’t happen in T.B.’s case, so the admission of the evidence violated his Sixth Amendment rights and required the reversal of his conviction.
When you’re on trial facing major felony charges, the stakes are as high as they can get. With so much on the line, you need the most powerful defense representation possible. The skilled Maryland criminal defense attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC are here to help, providing diligent and effective advocacy at every step of the process from investigation to trial. Contact us today at 301-519-2801 or via our online form to set up your consultation.