The Maryland Supreme Court Just Put Some Important New Limits on Ballistics Expert Evidence in Criminal Trials

Earlier this week, Maryland’s highest court issued a new opinion that made national headlines. The decision imposes necessary new standards on how prosecutors in this state can (and cannot) use ballistics experts. This ruling potentially represents a major aid for people in Maryland who stand accused of crimes involving guns. Whether or not your case involves firearms, a skilled Maryland criminal defense lawyer with fully up-to-date knowledge can be crucial to getting the best possible outcome.

The origin of the case was a murder in Riverdale. Police found the victim dead, having suffered five gunshot wounds, including one to the back of the head. A few days earlier, the police had responded to a disturbance at the same property. The police testified that the accused appeared to be “agitated” and “very aggressive,” and that the other man seemed “terrified.”

After the shooting, the police seized both of the guns belonging to the victim’s roommate — a Glock and a .38 Special. At the roommate’s murder trial, an examiner with the police department’s Firearms Examination Unit testified that, based on markings found on the bullets recovered from the crime scene, the bullets came from the exact .38 that the accused owned.

The jury convicted the man of first-degree murder.

The Supreme Court reversed that conviction, however. In the process, the court became a leader in establishing restrictions on the use of ballistics expert evidence, which prosecutors frequently rely upon to secure convictions in gun-related crimes.

Firearm and Toolmark Identification: Generally Reliable, But…

The underlying theory behind this type of evidence is that each gun has “random imperfections produced during manufacture or caused by accidental damage” that cause the bullets that pass it to have unique patterns and markings.

The court’s ruling acknowledged that weapon identification scientific evidence is generally reliable and therefore admissible, but that there are limits. When the prosecution has evidence (and experts) like what the state had against this murder defendant, the state may use the expert. The expert may testify that the “patterns and markings on bullets are consistent or inconsistent with those on bullets fired from a particular firearm.” The expert may not, however, give unqualified testimony that a particular bullet (or bullets) can from a specific gun.

This groundbreaking decision reigns in an area of evidence — ballistics experts — vital to many prosecutions in cases involving guns. When a prosecution expert says “the bullet recovered from the victim’s body came from the defendant’s gun,” it may give the appearance of an open-and-shut case. Now, people on trial will have a fairer chance.

When you stand accused of a crime, the key to your defense may be an affirmative defense like self-defense. Alternatively, it may be establishing that the state’s witnesses are not credible or that its experts are not reliable. Whatever the centerpiece of your defense is, the skilled Maryland criminal defense attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC can help make that defense even stronger. Contact us today at 301-519-2801 or via our online form to set up your consultation and found how our knowledge, skills, and experience can help you defend yourself and safeguard your rights.

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