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COA: Glove not enough to convict man of burglary

April 25, 2013

Worried that upholding a man’s conviction based solely on DNA presence on a glove found at a crime scene would create a precedent for criminals to frame someone else, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a burglary conviction out of St. Joseph County.  

In Martin Meehan v. State of Indiana, 71A04-1209-CR-453, Martin Meehan was convicted of Class C felony burglary and found to be a habitual offender for the burglary of O.J.S. Building Services in South Bend. Police found a glove at the crime scene and testing revealed DNA that matched Martin Meehan. That was the only evidence police had that implicated Meehan. He denied involvement in the burglary.

Judge Terry Crone noted that there has been no case determining whether the presence of a defendant’s DNA on an object left at the crime scene – standing alone – is sufficient to prove he or she committed the offense. The parties offered up related cases, but those don’t support Meehan’s conviction.

“In sum, in all the cases discussed, there was eyewitness or circumstantial evidence that explained how the DNA or fingerprint evidence ended up at the crime scene. In these cases, the totality of the circumstances made it unlikely that there was an innocent explanation for the presence of the DNA or fingerprint evidence at the scene,” Crone wrote.

“In many cases, DNA is compelling evidence of identity. In this case, however, there was no evidence that would support an inference that Meehan’s DNA was found on the glove because he handled it during the burglary, as opposed to some other time.”

The guilty verdict was based on speculation and must be reversed, the judges held.

“Were we to affirm, we would be creating a precedent that would make it relatively easy for criminals to frame other individuals; all they would need to do is obtain an object with someone else’s DNA and leave it at the crime scene,” he wrote.

 

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