In the recently released movie Just Mercy, the audience gets to see some of the many ways in which a criminal case can be unfairly manipulated to help enhance the odds of a conviction. This can involve various means, including the inclusion of perjured testimony at trial. The wrongful Alabama conviction of the defendant in Just Mercy was fueled largely by racism. In Maryland, there are lots of reasons why defendants may still receive trials that are less than fair, even today. This is one of the many reasons you need an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney on your side: to use his experience to spot those flaws that deny you a fair trial and help you take the proper actions in response.
In Just Mercy, the crime was the shooting death of a young woman that had stoked public sentiment. Those facts were also true of another murder that happened a few years later in Baltimore. J.K. was accused of the victim’s murder. The prosecution’s theory was that J.K., a married man, was having an extramarital affair with the victim and sought to silence her a few days before the two were to appear in court on a child support case.
The state’s case relied heavily on several pieces of circumstantial evidence. For one thing, the state used the science of comparative bullet lead analysis to establish that the bullet that killed the victim came from the accused’s gun. Additionally, the state called a firearms examiner from the Maryland State Police to testify as a ballistics expert and back up the state’s theory of the shooting.
The jury found J.K. guilty but, later, the prosecution’s case was revealed to have flaws. For one thing, the highest court in Maryland ruled in 2006 that comparative bullet lead analysis was “invalid, unreliable, and inadmissible.” For another thing, the ballistics expert from the MSP was, after the trial’s end, discovered to have “lied about his academic credentials in hundreds of cases.”
If you read certain opinion pieces about J.K.’s case, you’ll hear much about “justice,” or a lack thereof. Many of these miss the mark. Justice in this country does not mean basing an outcome in a criminal trial on what the police or prosecutors think the evidence should say to a jury. What does matter is what the state can prove through the presentation of admissible evidence (and only admissible evidence) that establishes guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
When the prosecution relies, in whole or in part, on perjured testimony by its witnesses and scientific methods that lack accuracy and reliability, it may achieve a conviction, but it hasn’t achieved justice.
New evidence and a ‘petition for writ of actual innocence’
When that happens to you as a defendant, you have options. One is to file what’s known in the law as a “petition for writ of actual innocence.” The Maryland rules include various situations when you can ask the court to take that action. One is when there is newly discovered evidence that comes out after the trial ends.
That’s what happened in J.K.’s case. Comparative bullet lead analysis’s status as legally too unreliable to be admissible at trial was not decided until years after J.K.’s conviction. Similarly, the state’s forensics expert’s lies were not exposed until years after the trial. Admitting these sorts of unreliable or false pieces of evidence fundamentally denied J.K. a fair trial and led the appellate court to grant the man the writ of actual innocence he requested.
If you are facing a criminal trial, you need a strong legal defense that can argue your case persuasively and also protect your right to a fair trial. Count on experienced criminal defense attorney Anthony A. Fatemi for that kind of representation. To learn more, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.