Criminal: RAGLAND V. COMMONWEALTH (SCOKY; 3/23/2006)

CRIMINAL – Scientific Evidence; Search Warrants

DATE:  3/23/2006

In this highly publicized murder case, Shane Ragland won a new trial following his conviction for murdering UK athlete Trent Diguiro in 1994.  In the 52 page opinion, a divided SC reversed and remanded Defendant’s conviction due to the admission of expert testimony with respect to the results of comparative bullet lead analysis (CBLA) tests.  The trial court erroneously confined its Daubert analysis to the ICP methodology of CBLA and failed to consider the scientific reliability of the conclusions drawn by the Commonwealth’s expert, Lundy, ipse dixit from the CBLA results.  No need to remand for a new Daubert hearing because of the FBI Laboratory’s current position that such evidence is of insufficient reliability to justify continuing to produce it.  Thus, the trial court could not conclude that the evidence is both scientifically reliable and relevant and would be helpful to the jury.

TC properly denied Defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence seized as a result of the federal search warrants.  The affidavit supporting the warrants was sufficient to establish probable cause.  Further, the warrants were not procured by deliberate falsehood or a reckless disregard for the truth.  TC properly ruled on Defendant’s Miranda challenges.  Alleged hearsay statements were either not hearsay or proper exceptions to the rule.  Finally, the majority of this Court believes that, at worst, the prosecutor’s brief and isolated comment could be construed as an indirect comment upon Defendant’s failure to take the stand, but in context, and in light of the prosecutor’s immediate clarification, the statement carried no such implication and certainly did not suggest that the jury should draw an inference of guilt from Defendant’s failure to testify.

Note:    Interestingly, Justice Cooper wrote the majority opinion but dissented from the ruling that the prosecutor’s comments did not warrant a new trial.  Justices Lambert and Johnstone joined in this dissent.  Justice Roach wrote separately because he believed the majority opinion painted too broad of a brush in concluding that comparative bullet lead analysis ("CBLA") evidence could never be scientifically reliable and relevant.  Roach felt the prosecutorial misconduct issue should not have been addressed because it was unlikely to happen again at retrial.  Justices Wintersheimer and Graves felt the conviction should have been affirmed.

This case demonstrates how good attorneys with deep pockets funding the defense (Ragland’s father reportedly spent over a million dollars on the defense) can take the government to task with their "expert" analysis.  In the end, it is this editor’s humble opinion that the absence of the CBLA evidence will have no effect on the final outcome and Ragland will again be convicted upon retrial.

Comments and digest by  Scott Byrd.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are inappropriate, offensive or off-topic.

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