Contrary to what television crime dramas would have you believe, DNA testing is not a mistake-proof way of identifying criminal suspects. Indeed, like any scientific method, the process of DNA testing has been altered and refined over the years to the point where many older test results would no longer be considered valid. Yet there are many people currently serving prison sentences based on older or now-discredited testing methodologies.
So can these defendants obtain new testing to confirm their guilt or innocence? The answer is technically yes, there is a legal process for post-conviction DNA testing. But there is no automatic right to retesting. Instead, a defendant must meet certain requirements just to obtain a new test.
A recent decision from the Texas Third District Court of Appeals, In re Rice, illustrates the uphill battle defendants face. This particular case involves a man who was convicted in a sex crimes case more than 17 years ago. Prosecutors charged the man with kidnapping and sexually assaulting his wife.
At trial, prosecutors introduced DNA evidence taken from the wife by a sexual-assault nurse-examiner on the day of the alleged crimes. A DNA analyst testified that the samples taken were likely a match to the defendant. Based on this and other evidence, including testimony from the defendant and his wife, the jury ultimately returned a guilty verdict on charges of aggravated kidnapping and aggravated sexual assault.
Over a decade later, the district attorney’s office informed the defendant that his conviction “might possibly be impacted by recent scientific elements relating to DNA evidence.” More precisely, the DA said that the samples that were used to conduct the DNA tests for the defendant’s case “was recently found to contain minor discrepancies” or alternatively was “adopted by the lab prior to recent scientific developments relating to the interpretation of DNA mixtures.”
Essentially, advances in testing now made it possible to recalculate the statistical likelihood that the samples taken from the victim matched the defendant’s DNA.
Some years after receiving the district attorney’s letter, the defendant filed a motion in court to order new testing of the DNA samples used at his original trial. Prosecutors opposed the request. The trial judge denied the defendant’s request, and on appeal, that decision was affirmed by the Third District.
The appellate court explained why it believed the defendant did not meet the legal requirements for a new DNA test. The main problem was that the defendant asked for re-testing under a specific provision of Texas law that applies to situations where the lab that conducted the original DNA tests “ceased conducting” such tests following an “audit by the Texas Forensic Science Commission.” Here, the defendant failed to present sufficient evidence that was the case.
To the contrary, the information provided by the district attorney and other sources suggested that while there may have been “minor discrepancies” in the original testing, that did not necessarily mean “that any lab or any analysts did anything wrong when performing the testing at issue.” This was a case where there had been “advancements in DNA interpretation,” as opposed to misconduct by the original lab.
Speak with a Houston Sex Crimes Defense Lawyer Today
When your freedom is on the line, it is essential that you have access to every possible means of reviewing and challenging the evidence against you. A qualified Houston criminal defense attorney can provide you with assistance in this area. If you are facing a sex crimes or sex offense charge and need to speak with a lawyer, contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Galveston, Houston or League City today. Call (281) 280-0100.