One of the most basic concepts of a criminal trial is that, while each side should advocate zealously, the trial should be conducted with ultimate fairness. If the prosecution in your case discovers but then hides evidence that could disprove your guilt, that is unfair and a violation of the rules. If the state provides you with certain evidence, but gives it to you in a way that is unusable or nearly so, this also runs counter to the idea of fairness.
When these kinds of things happen, you may be able to use these bits of unfairness to gain beneficial outcomes like a new trial or a reversal of a conviction. Of course, you first have to spot the violation and then know how to go about presenting that issue and arguing for your new trial in the right way. In other words, these are just a few examples of times when it pays to an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney on your side.
C.B. was a man on trial who experienced this kind of unfairness. The state accused him of nearly a dozen various crimes related to a carjacking and robbery. As part of its case, the prosecution sought to use DNA evidence taken from a pellet gun, which the police had discovered when they searched a van in C.B.’s possession. A state lab technician performed DNA analysis on the gun.
To understand what happened next, you have to understand some of the rules of criminal trials that involve things like DNA evidence. In many circumstances, the law will require a special hearing to determine whether the scientific evidence one side proposes to admit meets the standards for reliability that the law requires of scientific evidence. That hearing process can be bypassed but, to do so, the party that wants to use the evidence has to do several things, including providing the opposing party copies of its data.
That’s what happened in C.B.’s case, with the state seeking to bypass the hearing. The problem, however, was that the data existed in a peculiar format, and could only be opened by a computer software program called GeneMapper. C.B.’s attorney did not have GeneMapper, could not reasonably get GeneMapper and so couldn’t open the data. The defense attorney asked for paper copies of certain things, but the state refused, only allowing the lawyer to look at the data on the state’s computer that had GeneMapper on it.
The defense asked to exclude the state’s DNA evidence, but the judge refused. The jury convicted C.B. on six of 10 charges.
DNA data must be provided ‘in an accessible form’
Ultimately, C.B. won a reversal of his convictions from the Court of Special Appeals. In its ruling, the appeals court made an important announcement that potentially benefits any accused person whose trial involves DNA evidence that the prosecution wants to use. The appeals court specifically stated that the party who seeks to admit “DNA evidence must… provide the underlying DNA data, including control data, to opponents in an accessible form.” If the party fails to do that, then it is not entitled to bypass the hearing process and must instead undergo a hearing where it is obliged to establish that its evidence is sufficiently reliable.
One of the most vital parts of this is the “in an accessible form” component. This requirement prevents parties from engaging in litigation gamesmanship or otherwise erecting unfairly high hurdles to using the evidence that the law required it to disclose to the other side. The state’s method of providing the raw data files that it gave to C.B.’s defense team effectively required the defense to hire an expert witness to interpret the raw data, and would require any defendant in a position similar to C.B. also to hire an expert. That was an improper advantage to the state, and so it was not allowable. As a result, C.B.’s convictions were reversed.
Whatever the charges are against you, you are entitled to a fair trial. But it’s not just about getting a fair trial; it’s about a fair trial where you have the strongest possible defense. Talk to skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney Anthony A. Fatemi, who has been helping the accused in Maryland for many years, to make sure you have that kind of strong and effective defense. To learn more, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.