Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Other suspect evidence, reviewability of preliminary ruling, DNA on a "silver platter"

[CASE] When can a defendant present evidence that someone else committed the crime? Division I discussed the issue in State v. Mezquia, 118 P.3d 378 (Wash. App. Aug. 22, 2005) Find Result - 118 P.3d 378

The defendant was convicted of first degree felony murder in connection with a rape. The defense wanted to present evidence that the victim's boyfriend killed her: the night before her death, the victim had been angry at the boyfriend (who was not present) and his relationship with someone else; the victim had said she was looking for the boyfriend; the boyfriend had assaulted the victim in the past. The trial court excluded the evidence because it did not sufficiently link the boyfriend to the killing.

Division I affirmed:

A criminal defendant has a constitutional right to present a defense consisting of relevant, admissible evidence. * * * In order to be relevant, and therefore admissible, the evidence connecting another person with the crime charged must create a trail of facts or circumstances that clearly point to someone other than the defendant as the guilty party. * * *. The evidence must establish a nexus between the other suspect and the crime. * * * The defendant has the burden of showing that the other suspect evidence is admissible.
(citations omitted)

The defendant also sought review of the trial court's preliminary ruling with respect to 404(b) evidence, but the Court of Appeals found the record inadequate for review. Here's the deal: The defense had another "other suspect" for the crime, a cabdriver. The court ruled that there was enough evidence tying this man to the crime to make it admissible. The state had a witness who would have testified on rebuttal that she had been assaulted by the defendant if he raised the issue of identity. The defense asked the judge for an "advisory ruling" about whether that 404(b) evidence could come in. The court said yes. The defense decided not to introduce the evidence about the cabdriver and the prosecution did not use the 404(b) evidence. (Confused yet?) Anyway, the ruling could not be reviewed because it was only preliminary and any harm was only speculative.

The murder-rape took place in 1993. The case was open for many years. A DNA sample of saliva found on the victim was entered into a national database. In 2002, the sample was matched to a sample from the defendant, at that time in Florida. The defendant argued that it was error to admit the DNA evidence because of constitutional errors in the way Florida collected the DNA.
[T]he admissibility of the DNA sample obtained in another jurisdiction is governed by the silver platter doctrine under which evidence that is apparently lawfully and independently obtained in another jurisdiction is admissible in Washington, even if such evidence if obtained in Washington would violate Washington law.

The appellate court found that the imposition of an exceptional sentence violated the defendant's rights under Blakely v. Washington, because the jury did not find the presence of aggravating factors beyond a reasonable doubt. The conviction was affirmed and the case remanded for resentencing.

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