ILNews

COA says how to admit DNA testing analysis

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld a defendant's convictions of child molesting and used the opinion to establish how documents explaining the underlying analysis of DNA testing may be admitted at a criminal trial.

In hearing the appeal of Richard Pendergrass v. State of Indiana, No. 71A03-0712-CR-588, the appellate court discovered after a thorough review of caselaw that there was no precedent in place to establish the admittance at a criminal trial of those documents. Richard Pendergrass appealed his child molesting convictions, arguing against the admittance of three exhibits.

A forensic biologist at the Indiana State Police Laboratory prepared Exhibit 1, a certificate of analysis; and Exhibit 2, the "profiles for paternity analysis" of Pendergras; his daughter, C.P.; and her aborted fetus, who was fathered by Pendergrass. Exhibit 3 was the paternity index a doctor prepared based on the information from first two exhibits.

Pendergrass claims those exhibits contain hearsay statements and that he was denied his Sixth Amendment right to confrontation and cross-examination of the forensic biologist at trial because her supervisor testified in the forensic biologist's place.

The Court of Appeals examined the three exhibits, Indiana Evidence Rule 803(8)(a - d)'s exception to hearsay rules, and previous caselaw to determine that the exhibits in this case are admissible.

The appellate court used the three-step test that was developed in Ealy v. State, 685 N.E.2d 1047 (Ind. 1997), for determining the admissibility of hearsay under Evidence Rule 803(8) - Public Records and Reports.

The certificate of analysis was comprised of DNA samples from C.P., Pendergrass, and the aborted fetus, and included a recording of physical conditions as observed by the forensic biologist "akin to a simple recordation of numbers and therefore admissible under the Ealy test," wrote Judge Patricia Riley.

Exhibit 2 was also admissible under the Ealy test. Like Exhibit 1, this exhibit doesn't relate to a materially contested issue before the court but a numerical, uncontested compilation of data derived from the DNA analysis of the parties, wrote the judge.

The last exhibit from the state that Pendergrass objects to - the paternity index prepared by a doctor based on Exhibits 1 and 2 - is admissible because the first two exhibits were properly admitted as exceptions to the hearsay rule pursuant to Evidence Rule 803(8) and were admitted prior to the doctor taking the stand. In addition, the doctor testified that the only method of calculating paternity is by reliance and reference to Exhibits 1 and 2, which is a method universally used within the scientific community, wrote Judge Riley.

Finally, the appellate court determined that Pendergrass' Sixth Amendment right to confront and cross-examine the forensic biologist wasn't violated. The exhibits admitted at trial prepared by the forensic biologist weren't admitted to prove he molested his daughter but to provide context for the doctor's opinion, so the admission of those exhibits didn't implicate his right to confront the witnesses against him, she wrote.
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  2. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  3. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  4. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  5. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

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