The Maryland Court of Appeals today handed down an important decision in
Maryland v. Norton
that will help guarantee that those accused of crimes are able to fully cross examine government experts who conduct forensic testing in criminal trials. The question presented in the case was whether Harold Norton, Jr., who was on trial for robbery, should be permitted to cross examine the analyst who performed DNA testing on a ski mask that implicated Norton in the case or whether the state was permitted to call the analyst’s supervisor who was not involved in the actual testing. The Innocence Network, with support from the Innocence Project’s Strategic Litigation Unit, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case arguing that the Constitution’s Confrontation Clause demands that the prosecution present the analyst who actually performed the testing so that the defendant could fully question the analyst himself about his work.
The Court of Appeals agreed. Overruling in all but name prior Maryland precedent, the court held that because the analyst’s lab report, which indicated a match between a defendant’s profile and that of the perpetrator, contained the phrase “within a reasonable degree of scientific certainty,” it is considered testimony under the Confrontation Clause, and therefore, the defendant is entitled to cross examine the person who uttered the statement (the analyst who completed the report).
According to Chris Fabricant, Director of the Innocence Project’s Strategic Litigation Unit, “This decision helps ensure that defendants will be able to challenge incompetent or fraudulent forensic evidence through cross-examination of the expert who actually conducted the test. The misapplication of forensic sciences is a leading contributing factor to wrongful conviction, and this decision will help prevent future wrongful convictions by subjecting forensic evidence to rigorous cross-examination.”
A copy of the full decision is available