Maryland v. Kulbicki, No. 14-848 (2015), a recent US Supreme Court decision, helps to further define the concept of ineffective assistance of counsel for purposes of Sixth Amendment claims. The case is important for anyone considering a motion for post-conviction relief in State court or a habeas petition in Federal court based upon an argument that their attorney did not perform properly.
In 1993, Kulbicki shot his paramour in the head at close range. His trial commenced in Maryland state court in 1995. The prosecutor called an FBI agent as an expert witness to testify on the subject of Comparative Bullet Lead Analysis (“CBLA”). At the time of trial, CBLA was accepted by the relevant scientific community as valid. The expert testified that the composition of elements in the molten lead of a bullet fragment located in Kulbicki’s truck matched the composition of lead in a bullet fragment removed from the victim’s brain, and that one would expect to find such a similarity when examining two pieces of the same bullet. The expert also testified that a bullet taken from Kulbicki’s gun did not exactly match the two fragments, but was sufficiently similar to conclude that the two bullets probably came from the same package. In light of this and other evidence, Kulbicki’s jury convicted him of first-degree murder.
Kulbicki subsequently filed a petition for post-conviction relief, which he amended in 2006 to include a claim that defense counsel was ineffective for failing to question the legitimacy of CBLA. Between the time of the conviction and 2006, CBLA had fallen out of favor, was no longer generally accepted by the scientific community, and was therefore inadmissible.