Warnken, LLC Attorneys at Law, Attorneys & Lawyers, Pikesville, MD

Cost v. State

Cost v. State, 417 Md. 31 (December 17, 2010)

Defendant was charged with assault in the first degree, assault in the second degree, openly wearing and carrying a deadly weapon with intent to injure, and reckless endangerment.

He was convicted of reckless endangerment for an alleged stabbing attack on a fellow inmate at the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center, MCAC, and was acquitted on the other charges.  Defendant and Victim were “locked-down” in their respective, separate, cells when the alleged attack took place.  Victim’s cell was cleaned prior to investigation, and no physical evidence had been preserved.  Although uncertain as to precisely what happened that led to the cell being cleaned, events following indicate that MCAC staff disposed of the physical evidence, such as Victim’s clothing and towels. Because of the lack of physical evidence, Defendant pointed to facts that cast doubt on the Victim’s testimony, like the medical records that contrasted with what Victim alleged about the weapon and severity of the injury. No weapons were recovered when searched.

Defendant was granted certiorari for the COA to consider the following two questions:

  1. Did the lower court err in holding that the trial court did not err in failing to instruct the jury on spoliation because such an instruction is never required in criminal cases?
  2. Did the State violate its obligation under [Brady], when it failed to disclose that the victim had a history of self-inflicted superficial stab wounds while in State custody?

At trial court, the Defendant requested jury instruction on destruction of evidence by the State. The jury instruction appears to be adapted from Maryland Criminal Pattern Jury Instruction, MPJI-CR.  See MPJI-CR 3:29. The trial court refused to allow jury instruction for spoliation “in the absence of any testimony to support that the State deliberately destroyed the evidence.“ The CSA affirmed the trial courts decision, holding that “a defendant is not entitled ‘to an instruction where that instruction relates to permissible inferences of fact.” The COA reviewed whether the trial court abused its discretion when refusing to grant jury instruction.

Upon review, the COA held that the “trial court erred by refusing [Defendant’s] proposed instruction, vacate [Defendant’s] conviction, and remand for a new trial.” The second question was not reviewed because the first question was held that the trial court erred. COA found that the requested jury instruction should be labeled “missing evidence” instruction, as opposed to “spoliation.”  The COA looked at the crime scene that allegedly contained highly relevant evidence with respect to the crime for which the Defendant was charged. These bloodstained linens and clothing, and dried blood on the floor, would normally have been collected, analyzed, and preserved. The fact that these items were held in State custody, and somehow disposed of, also adds to circumstances that call for a missing evidence instruction. Defendant was prevented from using this evidence to support his claims, and therefore might have created reasonable doubt as to Defendant’s guilt.

The court holds that Defendant was entitled to the requested jury instruction “because the State had destroyed highly relevant evidence in its custody that it normally would have retained and submitted to forensic examination.” Judgment reversed.