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Does a Person Accused of Rape Have the Right to Cross-Examine the Lab That Performed the Rape Kit?

DNA testing has become popular in recent years as a consumer product. Home kits promise the ability to learn more about your genetic background. But it is important to remember that DNA testing is not a toy or a game. It is a serious tool used by law enforcement to charge individuals with sex crimes and sex offenses–in many cases years after the alleged offense took place.

Houston Court Upholds Conviction, 55-Year Sentence of Man Charged with Participating in 2000 Gang Rape

A recent decision by the Texas First District Court of Appeals here in Houston, Molina v. State, addressed a key legal issue regarding the use of DNA test results in criminal trials. The defendant in this case challenged the results because he was unable to cross-examine the individual analyst who actually performed the test. But the trial court and the First District held this was not a violation of the defendant’s constitutional rights.

Here is some additional background on the case. In 2000, a 23-year-old woman was abducted and raped by four men. The victim was blindfolded during the attack and could not identify any of the attackers.

It was not until 2017 that prosecutors charged the defendant as one of the four men involved in the attack. A rape kit was performed at the time of the attack. Sixteen years later, the defendant voluntarily provided a DNA sample to Houston police. This sample matched a DNA profile taken from semen found on the victim’s clothing.

Despite the lack of any eyewitness testimony, a jury convicted the defendant of aggravated sexual assault and sentenced him to 55 years in prison.

On appeal, the defendant pointed out the DNA test on the victim’s clothing was performed by an out-of-state laboratory. Neither the analyst who performed the test or any other employee of that laboratory were made available to testify at the defendant’s trial. Instead, the prosecution called a DNA expert from the Houston Forensic Science Center. The expert told the Court the Houston Police Department did not do the testing itself “due to quality-assurance concerns,” and therefore sent the rape kit to a laboratory in New Orleans. While the expert could not testify as to the exact protocols used by the New Orleans lab, he nevertheless asserted its methodology was reliable given that it was “accredited with respect to maintaining the proper quality-assurance standards.”

The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees a criminal defendant the right to “confront the witnesses against him.” The defendant here argued this included his right to confront the actual laboratory personnel who tested the victim’s rape kit and not just the state’s expert witness who relied upon its data. The First District disagreed. The appeals court held that “computer-generated DNA data from another lab is not testimonial, and the Confrontation Clause thus does not bar a testifying expert from relying on it even though the persons who accumulated the data do not take the stand and are not subject to cross-examination.”

Contact a League City or Galveston Sex Crimes & Sex Offense Attorney Today

The First District’s ruling is unlikely to be the last word on this issue. Indeed, the court noted the U.S. Supreme Court itself has been unable to reach a consensus on a defendant’s Confrontation Clause rights in this context. This only reiterates the importance of working with an experienced Houston sex crimes defense lawyer who is up-to-date on the latest legal developments. If you have been charged with a crime, contact Tad Nelson & Associates in Houston today to speak with an attorney. Call (713) 802-1631.