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Judges: DNA admittance was harmless error

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The Indiana Court of Appeals addressed for the first time today the admissibility of DNA evidence when a defendant can’t be excluded from a possibly infinite number of people matching the crime-scene DNA.

DNA evidence is admissible when the DNA analysis indicates a defendant’s profile is consistent with DNA found at the crime scene because that evidence has a high probative value, wrote Judge Melissa May. But the judges had to look to other jurisdictions for guidance on admitting DNA when a defendant can’t be excluded from a high number of people matching the DNA and the DNA expert can’t offer a statistical probability whether the crime-scene DNA came from the defendant.

In Quintez Deloney v. State of Indiana, No. 22A01-0906-CR-273, Quintez Deloney appealed his convictions of and sentences for Class A felony attempted robbery resulting in serious bodily injury and Class A felony burglary resulting in bodily injury. At his trial, a DNA technician testified regarding DNA collected from a red hat found at the crime scene. She said the DNA sample had DNA from two or three people and that she could neither exclude nor include Deloney from the DNA profiles.

Using the approach that requires accompanying statistical data for DNA evidence to be admissible, the judges concluded that the technician’s testimony lacked relevancy and shouldn’t have been admitted. The technician was unable to give any statistical analysis of the probability of a match, so her testimony couldn’t help the jury understand the evidence or make the existence of some fact more probable or less probable, wrote Judge May.

Admitting the DNA evidence was a harmless error, however, because there was substantial independent evidence of Deloney’s guilt.

The appellate court affirmed Deloney’s conviction of and sentence for Class A felony burglary, but vacated his conviction of Class A felony robbery to prevent double jeopardy. The judges ordered on remand that his sentence be reduced to Class C felony robbery and wrote that the trial court should consider whether it wants to shorten his sentence for burglary based on their ruling that the lower court erred by finding an aggravator in the victim’s alleged mental infirmity at the time of the crime.

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