Maryland Court Reviews Post-Conviction DNA Statute in Criminal Case

Among the many defenses a person can assert in a criminal case, evidence relating to DNA has gained increasing attention over recent years. Not only do people present DNA evidence throughout the course of their trials, but also cases have even been re-opened when relevant DNA evidence comes to light. One of the primary reasons for the increased use of such evidence in a criminal case is the continuous technological and scientific advancements in the field. Of course, state laws applicable to criminal cases must also evolve to keep up with these changes.

In 2001, Maryland’s General Assembly enacted the post-conviction DNA testing statute to provide a way for people who have been convicted of certain crimes to gather mitigating or exculpatory evidence through DNA testing of items related to the conviction. To understand how this law could apply to your case, you are encouraged to contact a Maryland criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

In a recent case involving a request for post-conviction relief, the appellant was convicted of first-degree murder and other related offenses in 1996. Many years later, in 2008, quite a while after the conviction became final, the appellant sought relief under the post-conviction DNA testing statute. He attempted to prove that under Section 8-201 of the Maryland Criminal Procedure Article, one item of the prosecution’s case (socks allegedly worn at the time of the murders) failed to contain his DNA. However, the State responded by informing the appellant that the socks no longer existed and were destroyed along with other items related to the case, once the matter was deemed final. The appellant did not reply to this response and later unsuccessfully pursued additional post-conviction relief, claiming that the evidence was destroyed in bad faith.

In the current action, the appellant moved to reopen the proceedings under Section 8-201 to examine the circumstances of the destruction of the socks. Among other things, the court denied his request to conduct further proceedings under the post-conviction DNA testing statute. An appeal followed. The court of appeals undertook a thorough review of the applicable law, first pointing out that a convicted person may ask a circuit court to order the testing of “scientific identification evidence” – evidence related to the prosecution that contains biological evidence in which there may be DNA. The law further provides that if the evidence is destroyed or missing, the State is to provide details concerning its search or the circumstances of the destruction.

There are circumstances under which the petition may be denied, such as if the court concludes that there is no reasonable probability that DNA testing has the potential to produce exculpatory or mitigating evidence. Here, the court ultimately concluded that the lower court’s decision denying the appellant’s petition for relief was not “clearly erroneous.” The court pointed out that the evidence all indicated that a further search would not produce relevant evidence with a reasonable probability. There was supporting documentation of the chain of custody and the destruction of the socks, as well as the appellant’s own admission that the State destroyed the evidence.

This was a complicated criminal case, in that the appellant tried to obtain relief through a series of post-conviction efforts over an extended period of time. There are situations under which a person convicted of a crime is indeed entitled to such relief. It is important to review and assess your case with an experienced criminal defense attorney from the local area. Anthony A. Fatemi has extensive experience handling criminal defense cases throughout Maryland.  Our office can work diligently to develop a strong strategy to defend your case. Contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

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