Note to self: if a coat is going to be admitted into evidence and sent to the jury room, check the pockets first.
A defendant in Hagerstown, Maryland, was granted a new trial on December 12 after jurors found new evidence in the coat when they were examining it during deliberations. The coat had allegedly been worn during an armed robbery and was presumably offered as an exhibit for purposes of identifying the defendant.
Someone forgot an extremely important rule of evidence: If Clothing Is Sent to the Jury Room, Jurors Will Go Through the Pockets. In this case, the jurors found a rubber glove, a bandage, and more importantly, a money roll totalling $1300.
The state’s attorney insisted that he (or, more specifically, his assistant state’s attorney) had in fact gone through the pockets before using the coat at trial, but he had difficulty explaining why they didn’t find the money if that was true. He speculated that it “must have been in hidden pockets or in holes in the pockets” of the defendant’s parka. Maybe, although even if the money roll was made up entirely of twenties, an unscientific experiment I conducted just now by taking a bunch of money out of my wallet here at the coffee shop and loudly saying “I wonder how big a money roll all these twenties would make,” in what was really not so much an experiment as a sad and desperate effort to get these models to notice me, suggested that a roll of that size would be at least a couple of inches wide and therefore sort of hard to miss even if it was in a “hidden pocket.”
The jurors, at least, were unsure how the stuff could have been missed. “You would think,” said one, “that with all the law enforcement people that had been involved with the case that everything would have been gone over with a fine-toothed comb—and then that fine-toothed comb would have had another fine-toothed comb going over it.” Sounds to me like somebody owns a fine-toothed-comb company and is trying to double her profits. You could always say there should have been “just one more fine-toothed comb” combing the previous combs, but in the real world, budgets and combs are limited.
The jury convicted the man in October, but Judge Theresa Adams granted the defense’s motion for a new trial this week because of the evidentiary issue. Though getting a new trial is good for him, it may not make a lot of difference if the money and glove are admissible the next time around. According to the report, the defense arguments centered on the inability of the police to find any cash or fingerprints.