Md. public defender “very concerned” about evidence held at SPD
SALISBURY, Md. – The Maryland Office of the Public Defender announced Monday morning that it’s, “very concerned about the integrity of evidence held by the (Salisbury) police department and its impact on convictions.” This comes less than two weeks after an investigation was launched into a Salisbury Police Department employee, accused of stealing items from the department’s evidence facility.
“I anticipate that there are a lot of people who could be affected by this or who at least should be interested in finding out if their case is affected by all of this and while we may not be able to give them answers yet I really encourage people to reach out to our office,” says Chasity Simpson, District Public Defender for Wicomico County.
“Evidence integrity is a fundamental component of a fair trial. While the details on the extent of the issue are still forthcoming, this could impact hundreds or even thousands of current and former clients,” says Simpson. “We are examining current cases to determine which may be impacted and warrant dismissal, and are committed to ensuring that former clients whose case may have had compromised evidence at any stage are able to clear their names.”
Meanwhile, 47 ABC also reached out to the Wicomico County’s State’s Attorney’s office who says they’re not surprised by this response. “We are staying the course. We will not know for months and months from now the full impact but we are staying the course. We will meet our obligations, ethical legal and otherwise. And we will ensure the integrity of the system,” says Wicomico County State’s Attorney Jamie Dykes.
The Office of the Public Defender hopes this investigation is ultimately opened to their office and other defense attorneys. The State’s Attorney says the county has been supportive and understanding of where they are and what the future may hold.
The Office of the Public Defender says identifying cases that may be impacted is challenging, especially in the years before the police department started electronic record keeping. “We are dedicating attorneys from across the agency — including our Wicomico County office, Post-Conviction Division, Appellate Division and Administration — to gather as much information as possible, determine the impact on individual cases, and identify next steps that may be needed,” says Becky Feldman, Deputy Public Defender for Maryland.
The agency is offering a hotline where people can provide information about their case over the phone or online for follow up. Individuals who have a criminal conviction or pending case involving evidence held by the Salisbury Policy Department are encouraged to contact OPD at 410-635-0046 or fill out the form here, also available at www.opd.state.md.us.
As 47 ABC previously reported, the Wicomico County State’s Attorney has requested a full investigation by an outside law enforcement agency, including an independent inventory and accounting of all property being held in the custody of the Salisbury Police Department. Officials are now looking at every criminal case charged by the SPD, or that contains evidence that is or was being held in the custody of the SPD, from April 22, 1997 through February 7, 2020. “The concern arose from an employee’s assignment to the property room in 1997,” says State’s Attorney Jamie Dykes.
Dykes says she understands this has the potential to cause long term effects on the confidence of the justice system but is working to make sure that doesn’t happen. “My office has done and will continue to do everything that it can to ensure the transparency, integrity and impartiality of this process. It is what victims deserve. It is what our citizens deserve. And it is what criminally charged defendants deserve.”
Based on the limited information they have, Dykes says they are hopeful that cases have not been impacted. “We are hopeful that at this point that we can maintain integrity of all cases that have been prosecuted and going forward. But the reality is that we will not know until a full inventory accounting investigation is completed,” says Dykes. “At this point, we don’t believe so based upon the very limited information that we know but understand as we proceed things may change. We are not making any assumptions at this point.”