Are DNA And Fingerprint Reports “Testimonial” Statements?

Under the Sixth Amendment and the N.Y. Constitution, a criminal defendant has the right to be confronted with the witnesses against him. Prior U.S. Supreme Court decisions have interpreted this right as applying to those who “bear testimony.” And “testimony” in turn, as expressed by the Supreme Court, “is typically ‘[a] solemn declaration or affirmation made for the purpose of establishing or proving some fact” (Crawford v Washington, 541 US 36 [2004]).

On Tuesday, in People v Rawlins, 2008 NY Slip Op 01420, the Court of Appeals held, under the circumstances before them, that latent fingerprint comparison reports were testimonial statements, while DNA profile reports were not. In both cases, however, the Court of Appeals found that the introduction of the reports were harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

In a long decision, the Court stated that the question of testimoniality requires consideration of multiple factors, but two play an especially important role in this determination. First whether the statement was prepared in a manner resembling ex parte examination and second, whether the statement accuses defendant of criminal wrongdoing.

The Court found that the fingerprint reports at issue were clearly testimonial because the police officer prepared his reports solely for prosecutorial purposes and, most importantly, because they were accusatory and offered to establish defendant’s identity.

With respect to DNA reports, the Court stated

A salient characteristic of objective, highly scientific testing like DNA analysis is that the results are not inherently biased toward inculpating the defendant; they can also exculpate. The inescapable corollary is that police or prosecutorial involvement is unlikely to have any impact on the test’s results.

A concurrence by Justice Read questioned that majority’s reasoning because, “fingerprint comparisons (although arguably not as “highly scientific” as DNA analysis) may also exculpate.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *