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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