DNA Evidence, Forensic Scientist Testimony, and a Defendant’s Right to Cross-Examination in a Maryland Criminal Trial

The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives each person on trial the right to confront his/her accusers and to cross-examine them. In Maryland, this state’s Article 21 gives an accused person even more protection when it comes to cross-examination. This is very important because effective cross-examination is often essential to diminishing or destroying the credibility of the prosecution’s evidence. Of course, it is important not simply to engage in cross-examination, but to engage in genuinely powerful cross-examination that’s carefully engineered to chip away at the state’s case. For that kind of effective cross-examination, you should rely on an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney.

The right to cross-examination has never been more important than it is today, when cutting-edge technology and scientific reports may be the key pieces of evidence on which the prosecution relies. Getting that report’s author on the stand and taking the necessary steps to minimize his/her credibility may be essential to your getting an acquittal.

Consider J.L., who was on trial for multiple crimes in connection with a Washington County burglary. In the ensuing criminal trial, one of the key pieces of evidence in the prosecution’s case was DNA proof. The police took a swab from blood located on a window frame and a curtain of the burglarized home and created a DNA profile from that swab. A Maryland State Police forensic scientist analyzed the sample and generated a report that named J.L. as a possible DNA match.

The prosecution, however, did not put that forensic scientist on the witness stand. Instead, the state called a different MSP forensic scientist who testified that, in her expert opinion, J.L.’s existing DNA profile matched the DNA profile of the samples found at the scene of the crime.

That, according to Maryland’s highest court, was not good enough. The court explained that, whenever the prosecution offers a scientific report as evidence that is “testimonial” in nature, then that trigger’s the defendant’s cross-examination rights and requires that the report’s author be available for cross-examination.

What Makes a Scientific Report ‘Testimonial’?

According to this ruling in favor of this accused man, a scientific report is testimonial in nature if the person authoring it “reasonably would have understood that the primary purpose for the creation of the report was to establish or prove past events potentially relevant to later criminal prosecution.”

In J.L.’s case, the forensic scientist who authored the report (and who did not testify) “reported that the swabs taken from the area of the broken window in the… home contained blood, and that the blood contained a specific DNA profile from a single male source.” In other words, her report existed primarily to establish a past event that would later be important in a criminal case.

That meant the report was testimonial, that the defendant was entitled to cross-examine the author and because he was denied that opportunity, he was entitled to a new trial.

As a person facing criminal charges, you are entitled to certain protections under the law. Utilizing those protections to their maximum effectiveness often requires an in-depth knowledge of the law and extensive criminal trial experience. For that kind of experience and knowledge, look to the skilled Maryland criminal defense attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC for your legal needs. To put the power of this office to work for you, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

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