Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Jones v. State (Ct. of Special Appeals)

Filed January 30, 2007. Opinion by Judge Deborah S. Eyler.

Defendant/appellant Jones appealed his conviction in Baltimore County of first-degree sexual offense, second-degree sexual offense, sodomy, and second-degree assault. On appeal, Jones challenged his conviction on the grounds that the trial court erred in rejecting his territorial jurisdiction argument as a matter of law, instead of submitting the issue to the jury, and in ruling the evidence was legally sufficient to establish a proper chain of custody for the DNA evidence.

Somewhere around midnight in early December, 1998, the victim went to a bar on Liberty Road in Baltimore County. After drinking heavily and passing out after falling outside, she was abducted from the bar's parking lot into the back seat of a car. Although she couldn't describe her assailant, she recalled being beaten and sodomized in the back seat, while a driver in the front seat drove the car, sometimes at high speed. When she began to throw up, the assailant dragged her out of the car. She then passed out again or fell asleep, and woke up some time later to find herself in Leakin Park in Baltimore City, dressed only in shirt and socks, some four or five hours after her abduction. She was taken to Mercy Medical Center, where a SAFE (Sexual Assault Forensics Examination) nurse performed an examination, and took an anal swab sample from the victim.

When after two months no viable suspect had been found, the case was closed by the Baltimore County police. Then, in 2004, DNA evidence from the swabs was sent to an independent lab for analysis. The results matched Jones' records in the State's DNA database, and he was indicted in early 2006.

At trial, the victim had not been able to testify as to her location during the period of her abduction, other than the beginning point in Baltimore County and the end point in Baltimore City, and couldn't rule out the possibility that she had been in the District of Columbia or Virginia when the assaults had actually taken place. At the end of the trial, the defense moved to dismiss for lack of territorial jurisdiction. The judge denied the motion, finding that the jury could make a reasonable inference from the testimony that the assault had in fact taken place in Maryland. Counsel for defense failed to request a jury instruction on territorial jurisdiction, but did mention in closing argument the lack of certainty of location as one element leading to reasonable doubt.

The Court noted that in Maryland, territorial jurisdiction is not an element of the offense, but must be raised as an affirmative defense based on evidence presented at trial. The Court distinguished the case at hand from the earlier cases of West v. State, Painter v. State, State v. Butler and McDonald v. State, finding that unlike the earlier cases, the issue of territorial jurisdiction had not been preserved for appellate review by the failure to request a jury instruction, and in any event the evidence here did not generate a genuine dispute of fact, at most raising a mere possibility or speculation that the crime might not have been committed on Maryland.

The Court then considered the evidence at trial on the issue of chain of custody of the DNA material, and found that it was sufficient to show by a reasonable probability that the DNA sample had not been tampered with, notwithstanding some missing details that did not indicate tampering or contamination. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the judgments against Jones.

This opinion is available in PDF format.

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