Maryland Man Gets Judgment Vacated After Trial Court Improperly Denied DNA Testing Request

One of the most valuable evidentiary tools in some criminal cases today is DNA testing. For some defendants, a DNA test result can be the key to proving innocence. For others, while not establishing innocence, a favorable test result can at least be a valuable piece in raising reasonable doubt about the defendant’s guilt. A recent case addressed the very important question of when a defendant is entitled to a DNA test, and the answer to that question helped get the judgment against the defendant vacated.

In February 2010, a woman was allegedly sexually assaulted outside a bar in Mechanicsburg. As part of his ruse to get close to the woman, the attacker asked to borrow the woman’s cigarette lighter. Two bar employees who were working that night identified a man at the bar who they believed was the woman’s attacker. The police arrested the identified man, and the state brought charges of first-degree attempted rape, third-degree sexual offense, and second-degree assault.

At his trial, the defendant contended that the state had the wrong man. In his defense, the man pointed out that he had green eyes, and the victim identified her attacker as brown-eyed. He also had a rotting tooth and missing teeth, which were not part of the victim’s ID. The defendant maintained that he left the bar at 1:30, more than a half-hour before the attack occurred.

The jury nevertheless found the defendant guilty. After that, the man made a motion for post-conviction DNA testing. Specifically, he sought to test the victim’s cigarette lighter, which the attacker held shortly before the attack. He also wanted to test a shopping bag and a cigarette pack. The trial court rejected this request, concluding that, even if the DNA test produced usable results, those results would be too speculative to qualify as having a “reasonable probability … to produce exculpatory or mitigating evidence,” as required by the law.

The appeals court ruled that the defendant should have received the testing he sought. The law does not require that a defendant show that the results of a DNA test would completely exonerate him in order to be entitled to that testing. The meaning of the word “exculpatory” as used in the DNA testing statute was broader than that. To be exculpatory, a piece of evidence need not completely eliminate the possibility that the defendant committed the crime; it only must tend to disprove a material fact that was part of the case against the defendant. In this case, the DNA test that the defendant requested would not necessarily eliminate him as the attacker, but it might tend to prove that he did not touch the lighter that the victim claimed her attacker borrowed from her shortly before the attempted rape took place. This, if shown by the test, could be exculpatory, according to the court.

Your criminal defense may involve many tactics and techniques, from seeking to exclude evidence to obtaining a court order for DNA testing. To ensure you get a strong defense, you need skilled counsel. Experienced Maryland assault defense attorney Anthony A. Fatemi has been working on behalf of the accused for many years to ensure they get a vigorous defense and a fair trial. Contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

More blog posts:

Maryland Man’s Alford Plea Costs Him the Opportunity to Request DNA Testing of New Evidence, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, Nov. 22, 2016

Maryland Court Reviews Post-Conviction DNA Statute in Criminal Case, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, Dec. 18, 2015

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