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June 29, 2011

Supreme Court Protects a Defendant's Right to Cross Examine Witnesses

The Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment to United States Constitution requires that "[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right...to be confronted with the witnesses against him...." With it's decision last week in Bullcoming v. New Mexico, the Supreme Court strengthened the Confrontation Clause when it ruled that a criminal defendant has the right to cross examine the actual analyst who performed crime lab testing on evidence in the case, rather than a surrogate witness.

The effect of cross examining the State's witnesses can make or break a defendant's case. Whether the issue is cross examining the analyst who read the defendant's breathalyzer results in a drunk driving case, or asking questions of the individual who analyzed DNA samples from the crime scene in a murder case, cross examination is the defense's most effective tool. A Maryland criminal defense attorney experienced at using cross examination effectively can be the central factor to whether a criminal defendant is convicted or acquitted of the charges he or she faces.

In the New Mexico case, the defendant, Donald Bullcoming, was found guilty at trial of driving while intoxicated. The focus of the prosecution's case was a crime lab report which showed that his blood-alcohol level was above New Mexico's legal limit for driving. The prosecution in the Bullcoming case called an analyst to testify about the results of the lab test which showed Bullcoming's blood-alcohol content, but called a different analyst than the analyst who actually performed the analysis.

The Supreme Court said that the substitute analyst was not sufficient under its prior holding in Crawford v. Washington. In the courtroom, evidence typically must be submitted through a witness with personal knowledge of the substance of the evidence. Then, the defense must be given the opportunity to cross examine that witness. Justice Ginsberg, writing for the Court, stated that "[t]he Sixth Amendment does not tolerate dispensing with confrontation simply because a court believes that questioning one witness about another's testimonial statements provides a fair enough opportunity for cross-examination."

The importance of a defense attorney that is experienced in the local criminal courtrooms cannot be overstated. Our Maryland criminal defense attorneys, including two former State's Attorneys, are experienced at using effective cross examination techniques to defend our clients in criminal courts.

March 31, 2011

Maryland Defense Counsel Must Disclose Alibi Witnesses

alibi.jpgIn McLennan v. State, the Maryland Court of Appeals upheld a circuit court's decision to bar a defendant's use of two alibi witnesses because defense counsel did not provide notice to the State of the required witness under the time requirements of the Maryland Rules. The Rules note a distinction between a defendant's impeachment witnesses and his or her alibi witnesses, and require disclosure of alibi witnesses at least 30 days prior to trial.

As many defendants learn too late in the process, the failure to comply with the Maryland Rules of Criminal Procedure, especially with regard to discovery issues, can bar the defendant from presenting a defense, even if that defense would completely exonerate the accused. Obtaining the services of a Maryland criminal defense attorney that is experienced in the intricacies of the rules of criminal procedure should be the first step for any individual accused of a crime.

In McLennan, the defendant was accused of robbing a pizza deliveryman, and then leaving the scene in a truck driven by a co-defendant. On the day of trial, the defendant learned of two witnesses that could support his claims of innocence by describing where the defendant was before the crime allegedly occurred. Defense counsel informed the Court that the two witnesses would be called, but the Court determined that the witnesses were alibi witnesses, and held that because the rules governing discovery of alibi witnesses were not followed, the witnesses would not be permitted to testify.

The Court of Appeals adopted the Alaska Supreme Court's definition of an alibi witness, holding that "an 'alibi' witness as a witness whose testimony "must tend to prove that it was impossible or highly improbable that [the defendant] was at the scene of the crime when it was alleged to have occurred.'" The Court, in noting that the Maryland Rules lays out a particular procedure for alibi witnesses, rules that the defendant was not denied a fair trial by the circuit court's decision to exclude the witnesses.

In order to present the strongest defense possible to a judge or jury, it is essential to have experienced Maryland criminal defense counsel on the job early. An experienced defense counsel can both to fully investigate the case to determine what possible evidence - alibi or otherwise - might be available for a defense, and to ensure compliance with the Maryland Rules so that client can use every potential defense available.