The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed convicted-murderer Dustin John Higgs's conviction and federal death sentence last week, finding that Higgs's rights to due process of law were not violated by the withholding of Comparative Bullet Lead Analysis (CBLA) evidence at his trial.
Higgs was convicted of killing three women in the Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge near Washington, D.C. after an unsuccessful set-up date. The government presented overwhelming evidence of Higgs's guilt, as well as of his predominant role in the murders, at trial.
As part of its case, the government presented CBLA evidence comparing the elemental composition of the .38 caliber bullets recovered from the murder scene, two other shootings in which Higgs was implicated, and from Higgs's apartment.
According to the government's witness, the lead composition of bullets recovered from one of the shootings matched the lead composition of 18 of the .38 caliber bullets found at Higgs's apartment. In addition, the lead composition of the .38 caliber bullet recovered from a second shooting scene matched the lead composition of the .38 caliber bullet recovered from the triple-murder scene.
On appeal, Higgs argued that his due process rights under Brady v. Maryland were violated because the government improperly withheld two reports that Higgs asserts could have been used to either exclude or further impeach the CBLA evidence.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed.
The court noted that the Brady duty to disclose favorable evidence does not require the government to make available all evidence in its possession or within its reach. There is no Brady violation if the evidence is available to the defense from other sources or the defense already possesses the evidence.
Here, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the government did not violate Brady by failing to disclose the two internal reports because the reports "ultimately did little more than advise the FBI that further [CBLA] study was warranted." Furthermore the CBLA criticisms in the reports appeared to have been available to trial counsel prior to trial.
Dustin John Higgs was the first Maryland convict to receive a federal death sentence, reports The Baltimore Sun.
- U.S. v. Dustin John Higgs (FindLaw's CaseLaw)
- Brady v. Maryland (FindLaw's CaseLaw)
- First Federal Death Sentence in Non-Death Penalty State Overturned (Death Penalty Information Center)