EVIDENCE DNA Evidence / Photograph of Crime Scene / Prior Conviction EvidencePosted by BS - 14/04/10 at 01:04 pm
Photograph of Crime Scene
Prior Conviction Evidence
Change of Venue
State v. Dwyer, 2009 ME 127, 985 A.2d 469, Levy, J.
This is a murder case which presents a number of evidentiary issues and the issue of whether a life sentence was justified. The initial issue was whether the Superior Court erred in denying the defendant’s motion to compel comparative DNA analysis. The only evidence presented on the motion was the testimony of a Maine DNA analyst, a Los Angeles Times article, and a Maryland state trial court opinion that was attached to the defendant’s motion.
The defendant wanted the State to perform a comparative search of its convicted felon DNA database to show that it was not a reliable database for identifying criminals by DNA. The witness testified that this kind of a search (called an “Arizona search”) would be problematic on the Maine database because the State was aware that there were twins, relatives, and duplicate samples in the database. The Superior Court agreed with that analysis and noted that the DNA comparisons in this case also used FBI population studies, and did not rely only on the limited information from the database.
The Law Court affirmed. It found that the trial court’s finding that the results of an “Arizona search” would be unreliable and therefore not relevant was properly based on the evidentiary record and well within the bounds of the court’s discretion.
The Court also affirmed the trial court’s admission of a photograph of the crime scene which showed the toes of the victim as being disturbing but not gruesome, abhorrent, or shocking. Its relevance was not outweighed by a tendency toward unfair prejudice.
The trial court also held that the defendant’s conviction for bank robbery in Federal Court was admissible to impeach him if he chose to testify. Since the defendant did not testify, the Law Court concluded that the finding that the evidence was admissible did not constitute obvious error. The trial court articulated its reasoning on the record, applied the correct standard, and explained on the record the basis for its conclusion. It also offered to give a limiting instruction to ensure that the jury used defendant’s conviction only for its proper purpose.
The Law Court affirmed the trial court’s denial of the defendant’s motion in limine to exclude expert testimony concerning DNA mixtures. The defendant argued that the statistical probabilities involved were so low that the evidence was either irrelevant or inadmissible because overly prejudicial. The Law Court found that the statistical data gave context to the DNA evidence, making it relevant because in order for the jury to assign weight to DNA evidence, it must know how likely it is that the conclusion the proponent wants the jury to draw is correct. The weight to be given that evidence was for the jury to determine.
The Court also affirmed the trial court’s refusal to transfer venue. The newspaper articles introduced in support of the motion were factual and accurate, but the comments offered by the readers represented the views of a select group addressed to a limited audience and were not necessarily the views held by the public at large. The defendant did not assert that the jury pool was inadequate to draw an impartial jury, and the evidence did not support that conclusion.
Finally, the Law Court affirmed the life sentence imposed on the defendant. It agreed with the Superior Court’s setting of the basic sentence at sixty-five to seventy-five years, noting that the sentencing court was required to assign special weight to the fact that the victim was pregnant and agreeing that the offense was in the highest category of seriousness based on the facts that the defendant befriended the victim, met with her to discuss her buying a car, then bound her, robbed her, held her against her will, sexually assaulted her, and ultimately killed her. Moreover, the Court found that the victim did not die unexpectedly, quickly, or painlessly. The trial court’s analysis did not demonstrate a misapplication of principle, given the heinousness of the offense.
In the second step of the analysis, the life sentence was justified by the aggravating factors of sexual assault, premeditation, torture, and the defendant’s serious criminal record. The Court also affirmed the thirty-year concurrent sentences on robbery and gross sexual misconduct. Finally, the Court noted that it had recently rejected the argument that the presence of an aggravating factor must be found by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.