Getting the State’s Evidence to Do Independent Testing to Strengthen Your Defense in Your Criminal Case in Maryland

There are so many ways that the right Maryland criminal defense attorney can help you. Not the least of these is where you encounter an uncooperative prosecutor in your case who fails to allow you to perform inspections on the evidence it has. When that happens to you, you may find yourself frustrated and asking, “Now what?” Your skilled defense counsel, on the other hand, will know what action to take to ensure you get a fair trial.

The need to inspect the state’s evidence can be relevant in a wide array of cases from drug crimes to sex crimes to homicides. For M.J., a man from Montgomery County, the charges in his trial included altering evidence and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.

The evidence to which M.J. sought access was roughly 5.9 grams of a “white powdery substance” found in the backseat of M.J.’s truck. The police lab tested the substance and concluded that it contained cocaine.

The accused’s attorney asked for access to the white powder, seeking to deliver that powder to a lab in Pennsylvania that would test it and make a determination about how much of the powder actually was cocaine. The defense attorney argued that that M.J. had “a good faith basis to believe” that the powder was mostly not cocaine and that the testing would be done at M.J.’s expense.

Note that M.J.’s attorney went through all the correct procedural hoops. The attorney filed a motion with the trial court in which the defense asked the judge to order the prosecution to hand over the powder, and then subsequently argued that request at a hearing.

The trial judge denied the defense motion, but the Court of Special Appeals later ruled that the motion should have been granted. When a person is on trial for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, the prosecution has to prove three elements. Those are: that the accused knowingly possessed cocaine, that the accused knew that the substance was of an “illicit nature” and that the substance was, in fact, cocaine.

How the independent lab’s results could have helped the defense case

M.J.’s proposed testing was relevant to the second of those elements. The chemist who testified for the state asserted on the stand that his testing device would produce a result of “positive” for cocaine even if the amount of cocaine within those 5.9 grams of powder was “less than a grain of sand.” M.J.’s argument was that, if the amount of cocaine in the powder was only a tiny, trace amount that was “so small as to be undetectable by the senses,” then the jury would be entitled to conclude that the state failed to prove the second of the three essential elements, which would mean M.J. was entitled to an acquittal on the drug distribution charge.

Alternately, M.J. argued that independent lab’s test results could produce evidence the he did not possess a large enough amount of cocaine to support a conclusion that he intended to distribute it. (This is a very important point because the sentences for possession with intent to distribute are often much harsher than sentences for simple possession.)

The appeals court agreed that a defendant is entitled to pursue such evidence. In the past, the Maryland courts have allowed proof of the purity of a quantity of cocaine to be used to create an inference that the defendant had an intent to distribute it. The appeals court reasoned, that if evidence of purity could be used against a defendant in an “intent to distribute” case, then “proof that the powdery substance contained only trace amounts of cocaine could support the opposite inference.”

On that basis, M.J. prevailed in his appeal and received a new trial.

Whether you need to get access to – and test – prosecution evidence, need to get state’s evidence excluded from your drug offense trial or need to accomplish some other strategic objective, be sure you have the legal representation you need for success. Count on the skilled Maryland criminal defense attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC and our many years of experienced helping the accused in Maryland. To learn more, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

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