Happy 1st exoneration anniversary, Major Eric Smith!

On July 17, 2015, the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals vacated Smith’s conviction and ordered a new trial. The decision did not mention the DNA test results, but held that Smith’s attorney failed to provide an adequate legal defense. The court concluded that Smith’s lawyer’s “failure to properly investigate and evaluate the validity, strength and relevance of the hair follicle test…was unreasonable under prevailing professional norms….This was exculpatory evidence that, if admitted as substantive evidence, would have enhanced the defense…”

The appeals court also held that Smith’s lawyer should have called the witness who would have corroborated Smith’s testimony that he submitted the urine sample voluntarily and that the failure to call the witness “was not reasonable.”

On September 2, 2015, the prosecution dismissed the case.

https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/pages/casedetail.aspx?caseid=4742

MAJ Eric Smith served as an Army doctor healing wounded soldiers across the world, including the deserts of Iraq. His actions saved many lives during his 17 years as a military doctor. Despite his many years of honorable service, MAJ Smith found his life turned upside down when the military alleged that a routine urine drug screen was positive for cocaine.

Since then, MAJ Smith has unwaveringly maintained his innocence, to include passing a polygraph and submitting to hair follicle testing that covered the period of time in question to further prove his innocence.

MAJ Smith has always been forthright and requested help for an alcohol issue in 2010 – a very common issue among combat veterans returning from war, and particularly among those who have PTSD as MAJ Smith does. Moreover, MAJ Smith anticipated this urine drug screen as part of his monitoring requirements and even made arrangements to submit the sample when he wasn’t required to – as he was working at an offsite location that day about one hour away. As a person in recovery who knew he was being monitored, he made it a priority to attend the urinalysis that day.

Despite his voluntary and compliant behavior and despite his exculpatory evidence, MAJ Smith was convicted and sentenced to two years’ confinement.

On May 15, 2013, Smith’s sentence was commuted by the military and he was released from prison. Smith then took and passed a polygraph examination. Then in 2014, Smith filed a motion to vacate his conviction on the ground that his trial attorney’s failure to take the correct steps to admit the follicle test results into evidence denied him a fair trial. In addition, Smith claimed that his defense attorney had also failed to call a witness who would have corroborated Smith’s testimony that he voluntarily submitted the urine sample.

After the motion was filed, Smith obtained an independent DNA test of the urine sample in question. The results identified two separate MAJOR DNA profiles—his and that of an unidentified male at a 60:40 mixture. Thus far, the Army has ignored the DNA evidence and has merely attempted to attribute the findings to a hypothetical possibility that a lab worker routinely handling the sample could have produced this result. However, this flat out could not be the case as the test was for MAJOR DNA and not “touch” DNA. Moreover, the Army hasn’t even attempted to investigate this aberrant result, nor has it even tested any of the lab workers to see if they match the unknown individual to support their claim. They haven’t even reviewed the forensic and scientific data from the DNA test which he has made available to them.

On July 17, 2015, the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals vacated Smith’s conviction and ordered a new trial. The decision did not mention the DNA test results, but held that Smith’s attorney failed to provide an adequate legal defense. The court concluded that Smith’s lawyer’s “failure to properly investigate and evaluate the validity, strength and relevance of the hair follicle test…was unreasonable under prevailing professional norms….This was exculpatory evidence that, if admitted as substantive evidence, would have enhanced the defense” (The National Registry of Exonerations).

 

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