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)

The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.

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

  1. Bettykath,

    That’s the issue… Unless the prosecutor agrees to post DNA testing then a motion has to be filed… And I would say that most of the judges or about 99.9 % are former prosecutors….. Who decides then…

    The case cited… I think the man is guilty… But they did establish protocol and procedure that has to be followed by the lower WA Courts….

    In Texas now, anything the prosecutor gets or obtains during a case including police notes must be turned over to the defendants attorney…. Some offices call secondary files research or lateral….. Which means in most cases that they were not discoverable….

  2. Thanks, Darren. I’d like to see DNA testing anytime it’s pertinent to the case.

  3. The other DNA angle. In a criminal case the presence of the defendant’s DNA on a dead person victim is often the hyperventilation which can result in a conviction. Rightly so, if the defendant never had seen, known, touched the vitcim or been near the crime scene or touched an item which the defendant then touched. In Missouri there were two cases where the DNA was wrongly used to convict innocent persons: State v. Samuel Freeman and State v. Donald Nash. In the Doc Nash case the DNA scenario came up in 2007 and the victim was killed in 1982. Doc and the victim had lived together, were lovers, had shared the same vehicle on the night of the murder, then another vehicle, and had touched each other when they parted in the evening. Later when Judy was found dead the cops clipped her fingernails. Then 30 some odd years later the match the dna on the fingernail with that of Doc the boyfriend. That is all they had. Doc has been in prison since 2009. The Missouri Supreme Court is “Unreconstructed” and will not apply the 14th Amendment or the federal sufficiency of evidence in a circumstantial evidence case, in a criminal case. Missouri is a pirate territory. Fly over and Flush.

  4. Metaphorical lions may be more understandable than small boys playing in toilets.

  5. Bill McWilliams,

    You bring up a valid point about the costs and the divide between rich and poor and the justice they receive. The statute mentioned about the DNA has a provision, at least statutorily to address the issue:

    RCW 10.73.170(4) pertains to DNA motions by post conviction defendants, the statutory subject of this article:

    Upon written request to the court that entered a judgment of conviction, a convicted person who demonstrates that he or she is indigent under RCW 10.101.010 may request appointment of counsel solely to prepare and present a motion under this section, and the court, in its discretion, may grant the request. Such motion for appointment of counsel shall comply with all procedural requirements established by court rule.

    Under RCW 10.101.010: (Definitions)

    (3) “Indigent” means a person who, at any stage of a court proceeding, is:

    (a) Receiving one of the following types of public assistance: Temporary assistance for needy families, aged, blind, or disabled assistance benefits, medical care services under RCW 74.09.035, pregnant women assistance benefits, poverty-related veterans’ benefits, food stamps or food stamp benefits transferred electronically, refugee resettlement benefits, medicaid, or supplemental security income; or

    (b) Involuntarily committed to a public mental health facility; or

    (c) Receiving an annual income, after taxes, of one hundred twenty-five percent or less of the current federally established poverty level; or

    (d) Unable to pay the anticipated cost of counsel for the matter before the court because his or her available funds are insufficient to pay any amount for the retention of counsel.

    (4) “Indigent and able to contribute” means a person who, at any stage of a court proceeding, is unable to pay the anticipated cost of counsel for the matter before the court because his or her available funds are less than the anticipated cost of counsel but sufficient for the person to pay a portion of that cost.

    It is a step in the right direction at least.

  6. With 2.3 million people in prison, even a 2% error rate (which is extremely optimistic) yields 46,000 wrongfully convicted people still in prison. That’s plenty.

    The advent of DNA testing has exposed our system for not being even close to as accurate as we had believed/hoped – even in death penalty cases which receive our highest scrutiny.

    While DNA testing has been successful in exonerating many wrongfully convicted people, many other cases simply don’t involve DNA. Sure, we hope we always get it right on those, but the errors DNA testing has exposed (where it could) has certainly put a dent in our confidence that we do.

  7. Very interesting Darren. I am in favor of DNA being mandated whenever possible, especially in an serious felony cases.

  8. The 1% folks don’t usually support post-conviction opportunities to prove one’s innocence, especially if the convicted person is not wealthy. Rich people can afford to hire the kind of lawyers that rarely lose. They even hire heavy hitter lawyers for misdemeanor cases – to make sure their record stays clean.

    Poor defendants rarely have a prominent (connected – maybe from campaign contributions to the D.A. and judge) lawyer and investigator(s). They almost always have to plead guilty, rather than risk being locked up for a longer period of time. And that suits the 1% crowd just fine and dandy.

    The late Percy Foreman used to say (of his usually rich clients: “My clients don’t want justice. They want freedom”.

  9. limey, There are wrongfully convicted people in prison, but not “plenty” unless you ask them. Then it’s most.

  10. Good piece. This should be a civil thread, it will attract a good group of commenters.

  11. Right decision. There are plenty of wrongfully convicted defendants in prison who deserve a shot at this. Not this pig.

  12. Do a DNA test on the bloody pillowcase/blanket as well. Would be illuminating.

  13. In the modern skin boats, the boat’s cover is coated with waterproof material such as urethane rubber or other chemicals. They’re lighter (about 38 pounds), have smaller cockpits and lower decks for comfort and ease of lifting, carrying and paddling. Today’s technology makes these inflatable crafts more rugged and maneuverable, while remaining lightweight and portable.

  14. I am pleased that they have a reasonable standard…. But in this case, pubic hair was found on that mattress…. If it belongs to the defendant then he should not get a get out of prison card…. But all too often, some are wrongfully convicted… Thanks Darren…

  15. How Long Does DNA Last? DNA has an expiration date, but when exactly is it?

    DNA, however, is fragile, and breaks down over time. How long the decomposition process takes will vary with the circumstances under which it is found.
    Take, for example, if DNA is exposed to the elements: Like the human body itself, DNA decays with increasing rapidity in the presence of heat, water, sunlight, and oxygen.

  16. Compton is probably hoping to get a trip or two to court, and a chance to ride in a car, and have a little bit less confinement. Plus, he gets to screw with the bulls. BTW, I wonder how much a DNA test cost in a situation like this?

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

  17. Really, is Compton hoping the samples will be too degraded now to convict him?

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