High court rejects a challenge to DNA evidence

A local newspaper ran the Associated Press story with the headline High court rejects a challenge to DNA evidence. The article explained the case as follows:

The case grew out of a DNA expert’s testimony that helped convict Williams of rape. The expert testified that Williams’s DNA matched a sample taken from the victim, but the expert played no role in the tests that extracted genetic evidence from the victim’s sample.

No one from the company that performed the analysis showed up at the trial to defend it.

The court has previously ruled that defendants have the right to cross-examine the forensic analysts who prepare laboratory reports used at trial.

In this case, the state of Illinois said that the DNA expert who matched the two samples played the critical role – even though she did not actually extract the DNA samples and conduct the tests – and that she testified and was subjected to a thorough cross-examination.

Judge Clarence Thomas broke the tie vote with his separate opinion.  According to the article,

In the middle was Thomas, writing only for himself, but controlling the outcome of the case. Thomas said the lab report used in this case could not be considered testimonial and so does not fall under the Constitution’s cross-examination requirement.

The report “lacks the solemnity of an affidavit or deposition, for it is neither a sworn nor a certified declaration of fact,’’ Thomas said. It may be used at trial, but the judge who presided at Williams’ bench trial in the absence of a jury did not have to lend it much credence.

In her opinion, Kagan said the court muddied the issue in this case.

It appears that Judge Clarence Thomas tries to play word games and uses faulty logic to come to an absurd conclusion.  With the slightest knowledge of recent famous court cases, he could have come to the right conclusion and not embarrassed himself with his own writings.

The expert witness may have provided completely accurate testimony based on the evidence that the expert witness saw.  However, if the person who extracted the DNA samples had been present to testify, the defense council would have been able to ask the technician questions about how the samples were extracted.  In particular, the council would have asked what measures were taken to isolate the sample taken from the defendant from the sample taken from  the victim.  The O. J. Simpson acquittal rested in large part from the possibility that one sample had been contaminated by the second sample.  If such contamination had occurred, then finding the defendant’s DNA in the victim’s DNA sample would be quite possible without proving that the defendant had anything to do with the victim.

Of course, I am only basing my judgment on the newspaper article.  There are several possibilities that I can think of as a result.

  1. The Associated Press or the newspaper editors are incompetent at reporting and/or editing the article, and they left out the most important parts.
  2. The defense council arguing before the Supreme Court was incompetent, and failed to present the main reason for wanting the technician who took the samples to have testified.
  3. Five of the Supreme Court Justices are incompetent as lawyers, and were incapable of figuring out for themselves why a defense council would have a need to cross-examine the technician, among others.

Given this Supreme Court ruling, defense council will now have to remember to ask such expert witnesses how they can be sure that the samples were properly taken and were not contaminated. If the expert witness can not make such assurances, then the testimony is of no value. Maybe that is where the incompetence of the defense is only compounded by the incompetence of the Supreme Court.

I could be mistaken in all this if it turns out that The Associated Press completely missed the point of the Supreme Court proceedings. It wouldn’t be the first time.

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