Frye-Reed Standard and Harmless Error Revisited

In Fleming v. Maryland, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland affirmed a murder conviction and touched on two issues that are of interest to all trial lawyers in Maryland involved in personal injury cases.

The first issue discusses the admissibility of expert testimony concerning scientific or forensic evidence in Maryland under the Frye-Reed standard, which provides that scientific techniques can be admissible at trial if they are “generally accepted” in the medical and/or scientific community. The second involves the doctrine of harmless error, which applies in defining the scope of cross-examination.

In many personal injury car accident trials in Maryland, a trial can pass with few rulings that are not completely discretionary for the court. If a plaintiff prevails at trial, there are few issues for the defendant’s lawyer to attack. So it is not uncommon to get motions for new trials after a verdict that involves discretionary rulings and errors that are clearly harmless.