Television has a major impact on how many people view the world, including the world of criminal justice. Of course, police procedural TV shows represent creative minds’ artistic interpretation of a crime scene investigation, a police interrogation, or a criminal trial. While that’s true, there still may be opportunities to use certain knowledge jurors have absorbed from TV shows to create reasonable doubt in your criminal trial. As with any aspect of your defense, a skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney can help you advance your case in the most effective way possible.
One of the more influential shows of the last few decades is “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” and its spinoffs. In the “CSI” shows, the stars often solve cases and identify wrongdoers through fingerprints, DNA, and other forensic evidence.
Sometimes, in a Maryland criminal trial, the prosecution’s case against the defendant may have a noticeable absence of “forensic or scientific techniques often featured in police procedural television shows.” This absence may, of course, allow the defense to plant seeds of doubt in the minds of the jurors about the strength of the state’s case. To combat this, Maryland law allows trial judges to issue what’s called “anti-CSI effect” jury instructions.
These jury instructions have the potential to be unfair to the defense. The law in Maryland has always said that the prosecution has the burden of proof for establishing every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. A jury instruction that lessens that burden may be erroneous and, if used in your case, may represent an opportunity to obtain a reversal and a new trial.
A recent case originating in Wicomico County is a good illustration of this. The state had charged D.T. in the break-in of a college student’s apartment in 2008. The charges were burglary, robbery, assault, and indecent exposure.
The key evidence against D.T. was the victim’s testimony. The victim had picked D.T. out of a photo array presented to her by police. She again identified D.T. as the perpetrator at trial. D.T.’s defense did not focus heavily on the absence of DNA or fingerprint evidence linking him to the alleged crime.
After the arguments concluded, the judge instructed the jury that there “is no legal requirement that the State offer scientific evidence as a part of its case, such as DNA, fingerprinting, blood typing, fiber analysis, hair follicle analysis, or anything of that nature.”
This was not a permissible type of “anti-CSI effect” jury instruction. Unlike other anti-CSI effect instructions that the Court of Appeals and Court of Special Appeals had approved in the past, this one had several unique problems.
Perhaps the most important difference was what the judge didn’t say in the instruction. In the previous instructions that the appellate courts OK’ed, the instruction specifically told the jurors that “You should consider all of the evidence or lack of evidence in deciding whether a defendant is guilty.” In D.T.’s case, the instruction omitted explicitly instructing the jury that they could contemplate the state’s failure to present certain evidence in deciding guilt.
Giving the Instruction Preemptively Generally Isn’t Allowed
Another problem was context. The high court made it clear that a trial judge should only give an anti-CSI effect instruction as a way to combat “overreaching” arguments by the defense. If, for example, a defense lawyer focused to an excessive extent on a lack of DNA or other forensic evidence, the instruction might be OK in that situation.
In D.T.’s case, the judge issued the instruction preemptively in anticipation of a defense argument that, in fact, never happened. While trial judges can issue the instruction after the defense’s arguments have shown a need, judges cannot issue preemptive anti-CSI effect instructions in anticipation of potential defense arguments.
There are several technical areas, including evidence suppression motions, juror selection, and jury instructions, where even seemingly small nuances may be the difference between conviction and acquittal. That’s why you need an experienced criminal defense lawyer to “sweat the small stuff.” The experienced and diligent Maryland criminal defense attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC are here to provide that sort of effective representation in your case. To get us started working for you, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.