Washington Supreme Court Clarifies Requirements For Post-Conviction DNA Testing

Submitted By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

DNA_orbit_animated_static_thumbAdvocates of allowing the convicted the opportunity to have DNA tests performed on evidence in the hope of releasing from prison innocent persons could find benefit in an En Banc ruling by the Washington Supreme Court.

In State v. Crumpton the Court created a standard lower courts court should use to decide a motion for post-conviction DNA testing and whether a court should presume DNA evidence would be favorable to the convicted individual when determining if it is likely the evidence would prove his or her innocence in order to determine if the DNA test is provided.

In 1993 petitioner Lindsey Crumpton was convicted of five counts of rape in the first degree and one count of residential burglary. He then petitioned the Superior Court to grant him a post-conviction DNA test as provided in RCW 10.73.170(3) which reads in pertinent part:

(3) The court shall grant a motion requesting DNA testing under this section if such motion is in the form required by subsection (2) of this section, and the convicted person has shown the likelihood that the DNA evidence would demonstrate innocence on a more probable than not basis

The superior court denied this motion, saying he had not shown a ‘”likelihood that the DNA evidence would demonstrate his innocence on a more probable than not basis.” An appeal to a Washington Court of Appeals ultimately denied the defendant’s motion and affirmed the Superior Court’s denial of his motion. The Washington Supreme Court reversed and remanded the motion back to the trial court to apply the new standard in determining whether such DNA testing should be granted.

The opinion provided the following factual background and procedural history:

In 1993, a 75 year old widow living alone in Bremerton was repeatedly raped by an intruder). The woman was awoken at around 3: 15 a.m. and saw a man standing in her room. The man covered her head with bedding and raped her five times, four times anally and once vaginally. In between each rape, he rummaged through different rooms in the house for valuables. The woman was unable to give a good description of the rapist due to the dark room and her head being covered during the encounter. ! However, she described him as a “‘big black man”‘ who felt ‘”greasy”‘ and smelled of cologne

After the fifth rape, the man poured something cold onto the woman, rammed handkerchiefs from the woman’s nightstand drawer into her perineal area, and then left. Shortly afterward, she went to her neighbor’s house for help. At around 5:15a.m., they called the police. Paramedics came and took to the hospital, where the doctor observed bruising on her neck, tearing of her rectum, and blood in her vagina. A police officer stopped Crumpton at 5:23 a.m. because he matched the description of the rapist.Jd. Crumpton was running a half a mile from the woman’s house. He was wearing soiled pants and a black leather jacket without a shirt. His skin was wet looking. He was carrying a flower-print design pillowcase or blanket smeared with blood and matching the woman’s bedding. He had a beige phone cord,2 costume jewelry, a cigarette case, and a number of handkerchiefs. The woman identified all these items as belonging to her. One of the hairs collected from the woman’s mattress matched a pubic hair sample from Crumpton.

When he was first stopped, Crumpton claimed he was going to his mother’s house from his sister’s house. He said he had the sheets for his mother to wash, the handkerchiefs because he had a cold, and the jewelry because he didn’t trust his sister with it. Crumpton admitted to being in the woman’s house for approximately 40 minutes and to taking her items but denied hitting or raping her.

Crumpton appealed his conviction through to the Washington Supreme Court which upheld his conviction. He then began a new appeal based upon the DNA retesting as provided in Chapter 10.73 RCW. The evidence outside of the DNA realm certainly is compelling and accordingly a jury found him guilty of the rapes and the burglary. The judge provided for an exceptional sentence due to the brutality of the rapes along with the vulnerability of the victim, both sentencing enhancements.

At issue is the substantive portion of the statute that requires the convicted person to show “the likelihood that the DNA evidence would demonstrate innocence on a more probable than not basis.” RCW 10.73.170(3). However Crumpton argues that a more favorable standard be applied toward the defendant.

Citing previous case law, see court’s opinion attached to this article, the court essentially ruled that not only a standard must be applied in a direct sense that the DNA taken, or not taken in the past as in convictions decades previous where DNA testing was not widely available that DNA evidence alone was not sufficient to establish that the evidence sufficient to secure conviction, the court established that the DNA evidence as potentially exculpable in nature to prove the innocence of the defendant must be taken into consideration. The latter being that the defendant could not possibly been the person who committed the crime because the evidence shows that the defendant clearly was not present at the crime’s commission and that presented substantial exculpatory evidence.

The court was not in the sense opening the doors for a blanket granting of all defendants to then be afforded DNA, citing cases such as Crumpton where evidence against the individual, other than DNA, being damaging or exonerating should factor into the trial court’s ruling on a motion to grant additional DNA testing. The court also did not agree that DNA testing is an inherent right for all defendants in all cases. If the evidence potentially granting a new trial if it is exculpable then a motion for DNA testing should be reviewed at least favorably to the defendant. If the DNA is not favorable obviously no retrial is permitted and, interestingly, if the test is inconclusive then the high burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt will prevail in a conviction as it provides that the state has proven its case to a sufficiently high measure.

Having not used a standard established by the Washington Supreme Court in this case the court could only conclude that the trial judge erred in not reviewing the defendant’s motion did not include the use of a favorable presumption that the defendant might be exonerated. The case was then remanded to the trial court for reconsideration of the motion and provide the standard established.

The dissenting opinion concluded the following

Crumpton’s motion for postconviction DNA testing should be denied because he has not met his statutory burden (i.e., showing that DNA evidence would demonstrate his innocence on a more probable than not basis). The legislative intent behind Washington’s postconviction DNA testing statute does not support reading a favorable presumption into the language of RCW 10.73.170. Nor does our precedent require this result. The majority’s presumption will require DNA testing in every single perpetrator rape case in which a convicted defendant asserts his or her innocence and shows DNA technology has improved. Courts will likely see individuals convicted of crimes committed 20-plus years ago petitioning for postconviction DNA testing because DNA testing was not available at the time of their original trial or was less reliable than it is now. And, 20 years hence, a favorable presumption will similarly require new DNA testing because the accuracy of the testing will certainly improve. We should leave the focus of the statute where it was intended to be. Rather than reading a favorable presumption into the language of RCW 10.73.170, we should require the petitioner to show what the statute’s plain language demands-a “likelihood that the DNA evidence would demonstrate innocence on a more probable than not basis.” RCW 10.73.170(3).

By Darren Smith

Source: State v. Crumption (PDF)

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22 thoughts on “Washington Supreme Court Clarifies Requirements For Post-Conviction DNA Testing”

  1. Paul:

    That’s the only think I can think of – that he is hoping that the DNA has degraded from the test kit, or was not stored, handled, or saved correctly. Because how is he going to explain having her blood, pillow case, and jewelry, and his “hair” on her bedding.

    Poor lady. I hope she was able to emotionally recover.

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