September 2011 Archives

September 30, 2011

Maryland Court Rules DNA Evidence Indamissible Without In-Court Supporting Testimony

Following on the heels of the United States Supreme Court's decision in Bullcoming v. New Mexico which this blog addressed in June, and adopting the reasoning of that case, the Maryland Court of Appeals has upheld a criminal defendant's right to confront the testimonial witnesses against him, in a case that could have long-reaching ramifications for cases relying on DNA evidence.

Our Maryland criminal defense attorneys are experienced with the use of DNA evidence in criminal trials, and can protect your rights if you are charged with a crime where the State is relying on DNA evidence. DNA evidence is an extremely complex issue, and necessitates the assistance of an attorney who is comfortable handling the evidentiary issues involved.

In Derr v. State, the Maryland Court of Appeals addressed whether the reports created by DNA analysts, without those analysts' in-court testimony supporting those reports, was admissible into evidence. At trial, Derr was found guilty of a December 1984 rape. The State submitted into evidence three reports showing DNA analyses (dated 1985, 2002, and 2004), supported only by the testimony of a supervisory DNA analyst who had not been personally involved in the performing the forensic tests or creating the reports.

constitution.jpgThe Sixth Amendment provides that "[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to be confronted with the witnesses against him[.]" Similar language is found in Article 21 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights. As the Court of Appeals noted in Derr, the purpose of the protected right is two-fold: to provide the defendant with the opportunity for cross-examination, and to also provide the judge and jury the opportunity to observe the witness' demeanor.

This right of a defendant to confront the witnesses the State uses against him or her is broader than simply the right to cross-examine the human witnesses that take the stand. As the Court of Appeals found in this case, the right also extends to situations where the State is using an out-of-court statement, such as a DNA analysis created in a lab. Such a statement, if used as the functional equivalent of in-court testimony, is called a "testimonial statement." The Court held that "any statement made under circumstances which would lead an objective witness reasonably to believe that the statement would be available for use at a later trial," is testimonial in nature. These DNA analysis reports were ruled to be testimonial statements. Under the Sixth Amendment, the defendant has the right to cross-examine the person who made the "testimonial" analysis. The Court ruled that the forensic evidence against Derr was inadmissible because the analysts who performed the tests of the evidence presented against him did not testify, and reversed his conviction.

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September 8, 2011

Maryland Court Retains 4th Amendment Protections in Building Curtilage

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled yesterday in McGurk v. State that an overnight guest was entitled to 4th Amendment protections when on a second-floor balcony at a friend's home in Ocean City, Maryland. The decision is notable because of the Court's analysis of the extent to which the 4th Amendment protections apply in an area that is arguably within the public view.

The application of the 4th Amendment of the United States Constitution to a particular set of facts in a criminal proceeding often involves a complex analysis of a convoluted area of the law. Fourth Amendment protections have evolved significantly over time, frequently changing with the evolution of the United States Supreme Court, as well as the Maryland appellate courts. An attorney experienced at presenting technical arguments to the Maryland Courts is essential for an individual who finds himself or herself facing criminal charges.

balcony_with_wooden_railing.JPGThe balcony in question in McGurk was a second-floor balcony with a wooden railing. There were plants, a glass table, and chairs on the balcony. A set of stairs led from the balcony down to the sidewalk in front of the house, and there was no gate blocking the entrance to the stairs or the balcony. Notably, the balcony was not the primary entrance to the residence. At 3:15 a.m. on a summer morning, an officer walked up the stairs to the balcony where McGurk and another individual were sitting because he was searching for the source of an odor of burnt marijuana. After questioning and ultimately searching McGurk and the other individual on the balcony, the officer found marijuana, cocaine, and a large amount of cash in McGurk's possession. McGurk was found guilty after her attempts to suppress the evidence were futile, and she appealed.

In perhaps the most famous case addressing the protections provided by the 4th Amendment, the United States Supreme Court in Katz v. United States said that "the Fourth Amendment protects people, not places. What a person knowingly exposes to the public, even in his own home or office, is not a subject of Fourth Amendment protection. But what he seeks to preserve as private, even in an area accessible to the public, may be constitutionally protected."

The McGurk case turned primarily on an analysis of what part of the area surrounding a dwelling is part of the "curtilage" of that dwelling, and thus whether there was an expectation that the balcony in question was open to the public or preserved as private. The United States Supreme Court held in United States v. Dunn that an area is considered to be part of the curtilage of a dwelling house if it is "intimately tied to the home itself." For an area to be part of the curtilage of a home such that the 4th Amendment protections should apply, there must be a reasonable expectation of privacy. There is a two-part test to determining whether there is a reasonable expectation of privacy - an individual must demonstrate that he had an actual subjective expectation of privacy, and society must be willing to recognize that expectation as reasonable."

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