When and How Expert Witnesses are Used in Criminal Defense Cases in Maryland

Expert witness testimony can be an extremely important part of the evidence offered as part of your defense in a Maryland criminal case. The law says that the expert must be qualified, his methodology must be competent and that his testimony must be about something that is beyond the scope of knowledge of the average lay person. If the evidence does those things, then it is generally admissible. Understanding how to use experts and to get the most from their testimony is just one of many ways in which an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney can help you or a loved one facing trial.

A recent case that originated in Worcester County is an example of how expert evidence can work and how its improper exclusion can help get the accused a new trial. The man standing trial, K.S., had been the police chief in a small southeastern Maryland city. The chief was on trial for official misconduct. The state’s prosecutors claimed that he conspired to cover up a man’s possible drunk driving incident because both the driver and the chief were members of the same Masonic lodge.

As part of his defense, the chief wanted to offer the testimony of two expert witnesses. Those witnesses would have testified about “the considerations and objectives that impact a police chief’s exercise of discretion during an investigation.” This testimony would have backed up the chief’s defense argument that his handling of his lodge brother’s case was “reasonable under the circumstances and consistent with the routine discretion that a small-town police chief exercises.”

The experts never got to testify, though. The state objected and the trial judge agreed with the prosecution. The jury eventually convicted the chief of misconduct in office.

Expert evidence must be outside the knowledge and experience of the average lay person

The conviction was later overturned and the chief awarded a new trial. The trial court’s exclusion of the experts was a key to this defendant’s successful appeal. The outcome offers some very useful information for any person when it comes to expert witnesses and criminal trials in Maryland. Basically, when you attempt to offer an expert witness to help clarify or strengthen some element of your defense, the law says that the judge should look at three main things to determine if the expert evidence should be admitted or not. One of these is whether the subject is a proper topic for expert testimony. With regard to that factor, the law only requires that the subject matter be something where the expert’s testimony “will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue.” As part of that, expert evidence is admissible if the subject matter is something beyond the scope of knowledge/experience of the average lay person.

In this case, the chief was accused of corruption and, to defend against that charge, he wanted to put on the stand experts who would testify about “what is normal and consistent behavior within the scope of a police chief’s discretion” to show that his action was not corrupt but actually just an ordinary exercise of a chief’s judgment. The sorts of judgments a small town police chief makes, in terms of whom to investigate or not, whom to arrest or not and whom to release or not are clearly the kinds of things that are outside scope of your average person’s experience and/or knowledge. The trial judge should have let the experts testify, according to the appeals court.

You may never find yourself facing a criminal trial while accused of official corruption during your tenure as a police chief. But you or a loved one might very well find yourself facing criminal charges in a case where the use of expert evidence and testimony may go a long way toward strengthening the quality of your defense. When that happens, put powerful defense representation on your side by retaining skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney Anthony A. Fatemi, who has been providing helpful counsel for the accused in Maryland for many years. To learn more, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

More blog posts:

How an Expert Witness’s Improper Testimony About the Truthfulness of Another Witness May Help You Get a New Trial in Your Maryland Case, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, Nov. 9, 2018

Maryland Nurse’s Opinion Testimony Triggers Conviction Reversal Because She Was Never Declared as an Expert Witness, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, March 9, 2017

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