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Maryland v. Kulbicki

Justia Summary

Kulbicki shot his girlfriend during the weekend before a scheduled hearing about unpaid child support. At Kulbicki’s 1995 trial, an FBI Agent expert on Comparative Bullet Lead Analysis (CBLA) testified that the composition of elements in the molten lead of a bullet fragment found in Kulbicki’s truck matched the composition in a fragment removed from the victim’s brain; a similarity one would “‘expect’” if “‘examining two pieces of the same bullet,’” and that a bullet taken from Kulbicki’s gun was not an “exac[t]” match to those fragments, but was similar enough that the two bullets likely came from the same package. The jury considered additional physical evidence from Kulbicki’s truck and witness testimony and convicted Kulbicki of first-degree murder. Kulbicki sought post-conviction relief. In 2006 Kulbicki added a claim that his attorneys were ineffective for failing to question the legitimacy of CBLA. By then, the Court of Appeals of Maryland had held that CBLA evidence was not generally accepted by the scientific community and was inadmissible. In that court, Kulbicki abandoned his claim of ineffective assistance with respect to the CBLA evidence, but the court vacated Kulbicki’s conviction on that ground alone. The Supreme Court summarily reversed, stating that the lower court indulged in the “natural tendency to speculate as to whether a different trial strategy might have been more successful.” Given the uncontroversial nature of CBLA at the time of trial, the judgment below would demand that lawyers go “looking for a needle in a haystack,” even when they have “reason to doubt there is any needle there.”

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