The subject of DNA testing has been increasingly prevalent in Maryland courtrooms. In the past few months, a Maryland case (Maryland v. King) was argued in the Supreme Court on whether an arrested person’s DNA could be legally taken. No matter one’s view on its collection, DNA sometimes plays a large role in determining who did or did not do something. However, they recently decided that Brown v. Maryland shows an example of how allegedly exonerating DNA results that might not even matter.
Brown features a particularly violent assault and rape of a young woman. She was abducted, beaten, handcuffed, and tortured– among other things that the court understated as being “not pretty.” I think the word “unimaginable” works.
Anyway, Brown was found guilty and convicted to eighty-five years in prison. Now he attempted to utilize a new Maryland statute that granted a new trial if post-conviction DNA was (1) favorable to the petitioner and there was (2) a substantial possibility…that the petitioner would not have been convicted if the results were known at trial.
There was no physical evidence linking Brown to the crime, and the post-conviction DNA results showed that Brown’s DNA was nowhere to be found on any of the main weapons involved in the incident. He compares his case to two examples in which the government alleged that DNA evidence (blood on sweatpants and on a knife) was inconsistent with the theory of the case.
However, the court rejected the comparison, stating that in the current case, the government had made no such implication that Brown’s DNA was on the scene. In fact, Brown was convicted with no mention of his DNA at all and with specific instructions to the jury stating that there was no such forensic evidence. The testimony of the victim, corroborating evidence, and statements to the police were enough for the jury.
Post-Conviction DNA Testing in Maryland
One thing we clearly want to do is get people out of jail who do not belong in jail. Raise your hand if you disagree with this premise. DNA testing is often the path to exonerate the innocent. The Supreme Court tells us that “DNA testing has an unparalleled ability both to exonerate the wrongly convicted and to identify the guilty. It has the potential to significantly improve both the criminal justice system and police investigative practices.” So almost all states have statutes that allow for postconviction DNA testing.
Maryland’s post-conviction DNA law is section 8-201(b) of the Criminal Procedure Article. The statute states, in pertinent part:
Notwithstanding any other law governing post-conviction relief, a person who is convicted of a crime of violence under § 14-101 of the Criminal Law Article may file a petition:
(1) for DNA testing of scientific identification evidence that the State possesses that is related to the judgment of conviction; or
(2) for a search by a law enforcement agency of a law enforcement database or log for the purpose of identifying the source of physical evidence used for DNA testing.
What if the state loses the DNA evidence? In Blake v. State, 395 Md. 213 (2006), the Maryland high court in an opinion by Judge Raker reversed a summary dismissal of a petition for post-conviction DNA testing filed under CP § 8-201. The court found that fundamental fairness requires that a convicted criminal with rights under the statute must be afforded an opportunity to respond and to challenge the State’s representation that the evidence sought to be tested no longer exists.