California Murder Conviction Upheld, Despite Faulty Witness, Evidence
The murder conviction of a San Bernardino County man has been upheld by the California Supreme Court, despite new information showing the testimony of an expert witness regarding incriminating forensic evidence was not reliable.
San Bernardino Criminal Defense Attorney Houman Fakhimi knows that murder cases are incredibly complex, and this case is one example of how they can drag on for many years before appeals are exhausted. However, it's rare for an appellate court to overturn a lower court's decision - even in cases where new evidence is discovered, unless it is extremely compelling.
The Supreme Court's 4-3 ruling in this case even further underscores that, establishing a very high standard of proof for overturning convictions that are reached as a result of faulty scientific evidence. The court decided that even if forensic evidence is later recanted, it can only be found false under a very limited set of circumstances.
This is why it is so critical in these cases to invest in an experienced criminal defense lawyer - the first time. You need an attorney who is going to ensure that all relevant information is carefully analyzed, and any incriminating evidence is aggressively challenged.
California Penal Code 187(a) holds that murder is the unlawful killing of a human being or fetus with malice aforethought. That latter part simply means that you acted with wanted disregard for human life and that the act you engaged in involved a high probability that it would result in death. So it does not matter if you actually intended for the person to die or not.
In this case, the 63-year-old defendant was accused in 1997 of killing his wife.
This defendant endured three trials. The first two ended with a hung jury. Then during the third, prosecutors presented evidence by a forensic dentist who testified that there was an abrasion on the victim's hand that proved he had been her killer. According to the dentist, that mark was from a bite and that bite would have only matched about 2 percent of the world's population.
That last jury convicted him, and he was sentenced to life in prison.
A decade after the fact, that same forensic dentist again took a look at the same photograph, which was enhanced using updated technology, which provided a clearer image. As a result of his new analysis, the dentist ruled out the defendant as the source of those marks - a conclusion that other forensic dentists reached as well.
This resulted in a county superior court judge in 2009 overturning that conviction. However, an appellate court later reversed and upheld the original conviction - a ruling that has now been upheld by the state's supreme court.
The question before the justices was whether the original testimony on the bite mark amounted false evidence, which is considered grounds for a new trial. Ultimately, the supreme court decided that the bite mark testimony wasn't false because forensic scientists were unable to absolutely rule out the defendant's teeth as a possible source of that mark.
In addition to all this, new traces of male DNA that did not match the defendant's was reportedly discovered on the suspected murder weapon, a rock. The court ruled this may have been due to contamination.
Attorneys with the California Innocent Project have called the ruling fundamentally unjust.
Contact Houman Fakhimi trial attorney at (714) 705-6701 as soon as possible if you are charged with a crime in Orange County.