State v. Joseph William Payne & Jason Bond
August 5, 2020
During a murder investigation, detectives recovered a scrap of paper from the bedroom of the victim, Glen Stewart, containing two names and associated phone numbers. From one of those names and the related phone records, detectives identified numbers associated with other people, including the two defendants in this case. This led to a further collection of phone records and resulted in thousands of pages of phone records being obtained. This information was narrowed down to less than two pages, which contained the timeframe from August 26 to August 27, 2007, under the headings of “Duration,” “Direction,” “Dialed,” “Beginning Tower,” “Ending Tower,” “Lat,” and “Long”. These pages were admitted into evidence during the joint criminal trial of Payne and Bond.
Both men were convicted of felony murder and kidnapping, along with the use of a handgun in the commission of a felony. These convictions were based, in part, on the testimony of a detective who testified that by interpreting the cell phone records for the period from August 26 to August 27, 2007, he was able to determine the location of cell phone towers through which particular calls were routed and to plot the locations of those towers on a map in relation to the crime scene. The detective was never qualified as an expert under Maryland Rule 5-702. The defense attorneys had objected to this testimony from a non-expert. However, the trial court allowed the jury to hear it.
The Court of Special Appeals and the Court of Appeals reversed Payne’s and Bond’s convictions, ruling that the trial court erred in admitting the testimony without his having been qualified as an expert witness. The detective needed to be qualified as an expert under Maryland Rule 5-702 before being allowed to testify as to his process for determining the communication path of Payne’s and Bond’s cell phones, as well as his conclusion that the cell towers were the most pertinent to the case. Expert testimony is governed by Maryland Rule 5-702, which provides that expert testimony “may be admitted, in the form of an opinion or otherwise, if the court determines that the testimony will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue.”
The detective in this case engaged in a process to derive his conclusion that Payne’s and Bond’s cell phones communicated through the cell towers that was beyond the ken of an average person; his conclusions regarding the communication path also required that he be qualified as an expert witness.