When someone is charged with a crime, there are many variables that go into a person’s decision to plead guilty. Many are also unaware of the constitutional waivers that come with a guilty plea, and the rights that can be lost. A recent case shines some light on the often harsh consequences of pleading guilty, when new evidence is discovered.
New DNA Evidence Discovered
The case involves a Defendant who was convicted of sexual assault. He later learned that there was evidence that had not been tested for DNA, which could possibly exonerate him for the crime. He moved to have the newly discovered evidence DNA tested.
The problem was that his conviction was a result of a guilty plea, not an actual trial. The state objected to testing the DNA on the basis that the plea waived any right the Defendant had to have the new evidence DNA tested. The Court noted that Maryland law does provide for post-conviction DNA testing and that the law does not specifically say one way or the other whether DNA testing of new evidence is available when the Defendant takes a plea bargain.
Court Looks to Language of the Law
Twenty-two states do specifically allow someone who has entered a plea to have DNA evidence tested. The absence of direction in Maryland’s laws led the court to look to the legislative history of the law. The legislative history demonstrated that changes in the law in 2003 were to clarify the definition of “scientific evidence,” and even though the amendment did remove language that required identity be an issue at trial, that removal was not an indicator that the legislator intended to allow those who plead guilty to request DNA testing.
Additionally, the law is written so that if DNA evidence exonerates a Defendant, and it can be shown that a defendant would not have been convicted given the DNA evidence, a court can order a new trial. The use of the words “conviction” and “trial,” the Court held, were further indicators that the legislature did not intend for the right to DNA testing to extend to someone who pleads guilty, where there is neither an actual conviction nor trial.
Harsh Result Ensues
Tellingly, and perhaps in recognition to the harsh result, the Court suggested that legislative action may be necessary to remedy the issue. The strict application of the statute fails to recognize the many reasons why people may plead guilty; one such reason is an evaluation of the evidence as it is known and exists at the time of the plea.
Had the Defendant known of the evidence that existed when he pled guilty, he may not have done so in the first place. Yet, as the Court has interpreted the law, that Defendant is now prohibited from relief from his plea, even when evidence that was unknown at the time of his plea may show him to be innocent.
Make sure your attorney understands the consequences of every legal decision. If you are arrested or charged with a crime, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss your case.