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Johnson v. State

Court of Appeals of Maryland

November 21, 2014

STEVEN M. JOHNSON
v.
STATE OF MARYLAND

Argued: October 7, 2014.

Circuit Court for Charles County Case No. K-80-7357.

Barbera, C.J., Harrell, Battaglia, Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Watts, JJ.

OPINION

BATTAGLIA, J.

Under Section 8-201 of the Criminal Procedure Article of the Maryland Code, [1] a person convicted of certain specified crimes[2] is permitted to file a petition "for DNA testing of scientific identification evidence that the State possesses . . . and that is related to the judgment of conviction".

In 2011, Steven Johnson filed, pro se, a Motion for New Trial, later referred to as a Petition for DNA Testing, in which he requested that the State produce a T-shirt recovered from the victim and admitted into evidence in Johnson's trial in 1980, [3] as well as an empty cigarette package recovered from the crime scene and a sex crimes kit produced by Physician's Memorial Hospital, [4] the hospital in which the victim had been examined. Judge Helen Harrington of the Circuit Court for Charles County, after three hearings, [5] found that the Charles County Sheriff's Office no longer had possession of the T-shirt, cigarette package and "sex crimes kit"; as to the "sex crimes kit", she also decided that even were the kit to have been produced, it only would have contained blood drawn from the victim. Johnson, thereafter, noted a direct appeal to this Court in which he asks us to resolve the following question:[6]

Did the circuit court err in finding that the State had performed a reasonable search for requested evidence which might contain biological identification material?

We shall affirm the Circuit Court's findings and conclude that the Judge was not clearly erroneous when she concluded that the State performed a reasonable search for the requested scientific identification evidence and that the evidence no longer existed.

At the end of three hearings, Judge Harrington stated:

[THE COURT:] I think there has been a reasonable search. . . .
And there is no evidence whatsoever that there has been any intentional or willful destruction of evidence. It simply doesn't exist. We can't find it.
So I have to deny the Motion for a New Trial based on a request for post-DNA; post-conviction DNA.

Judge Harrington also made specific findings that the T-shirt, cigarette package and sex crimes kit were no longer in the possession of the Sheriff's Office and, therefore, were unavailable for testing. She had found, at the end of the second hearing, that the Sheriff's Office had twice inventoried all items in its evidence storage area, Building 104, without having uncovered the T-shirt, cigarette package or sex crimes kit from which she concluded that the evidence sought by Johnson was no longer in the possession of the Sheriff's Office:[7]

[THE COURT:] I'm reasonably satisfied that evidence that was in property held and transferred from the old units to the new units was inventoried and logged in not just once but twice. So I think the loose ends have more to do with where else might it be rather ...

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