Criminal law - Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts fails to require statistical analysis for nonexclusion DNA test results.
Massachusetts grants judges broad discretion when determining the relevancy of evidence. (1) The Massachusetts Guide to Evidence Section 403 (Section 403) states that relevant evidence is admissible unless the trial judge believes the probative value of the evidence is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice to the defendant. (2) Massachusetts judges apply a case-by-case approach in weighing the prejudicial effect of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) test results presented to a jury absent supporting testimony regarding the statistical accuracy of such results. (3) In Commonwealth v. Mattei, (4) the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) addressed whether DNA test results that failed to exclude an individual as a possible contributor to the DNA sample were admissible without an accompanying probability analysis. (5) Although the SJC held that the nonexclusion test results were improperly admitted, it failed to require that supporting statistical testimony is always necessary to admit such results. (6)
On April 2, 2004, a jury in Massachusetts Superior Court convicted Alexander Mattei of assault with the intent to commit rape. (7) At trial, the Commonwealth's forensic chemist testified that two of the samples gathered contained a mixture of DNA that did not result in an exact match with the victim or the defendant, but could not exclude either individual as a possible contributor. (8) over the objection of Mattei's counsel, the court admitted the forensic chemist's testimony without an accompanying statistical explanation regarding the probability of a random sample resulting in a similar nonexclusion. (9) The Commonwealth later relied on the testimony of the forensic chemist to assert that the test results, which were partially consistent with the samples, could link the defendant to the crime. (10)
The Massachusetts Appeals Court upheld the admission of the evidence despite the lack of a statistical explanation, reasoning that the evidence was admissible because it was "descriptive of the individual" and was not presented to the jury as a match. (11) The appeals court failed to differentiate between nonexclusion and inconclusive test results when addressing the need for supporting statistical testimony. (12) On appeal, the SJC differentiated between these two types of test results, refusing to analyze a nonexclusion in the same light as a test that amounted to "no result." (13) The SJC ordered a new trial, holding that the trial court erred in admitting the nonexclusion DNA evidence without additional statistical support. (14)
In Massachusetts, courts determine the admissibility of DNA evidence--as well as most other forms of evidence--primarily by analyzing whether the evidence is relevant. (15) Frequently, DNA evidence is relevant in criminal trials where the evidence is used to identify the alleged perpetrator. (16) Massachusetts courts require expert testimony for the admission of DNA test results, but are divided on whether additional information is necessary to explain the statistical significance of the results. (17)
Massachusetts courts have held that where a DNA test results in a match, the result is inadmissible without an accompanying statistical explanation as to the probability of the match occurring by coincidence. (18) When a DNA test determines that there is no match, the results may be admitted without an accompanying probability analysis, but only when the results are probative of a specific issue of consequence in the case. (19) Massachusetts grants judges broad discretion with respect to whether this type of additional statistical information is necessary when admitting inconclusive test results. (20) Unfortunately, this broad discretion results in a case-by-case approach that has lead to conflicting results. (21)
Massachusetts courts have failed to differentiate between nonexclusion DNA test results--results failing to exclude an individual as a possible contributor--from inconclusive test results, often using the two terms interchangeably. (22) In contrast, other states that require statistical support to accompany matching results do not group together nonexclusion and inconclusive results, but rather they categorize both as being "consistent" with the test sample. (23) Moreover, other states that allow for the admission of DNA tests resulting in a match without supporting statistical explanation do not differentiate between a match and a nonexclusion. (24) This approach is based on the theory that a nonexclusion--a result failing to exclude a defendant--also indicates that a match occurred at some allele sites; therefore, the courts should interpret such a result as a type of match, rather than an inconclusive test producing no determinable result. (25)
In Commonwealth v. Mattei, (26) the SJC held that the probative value of the DNA test results, which failed to exclude the defendant as a possible contributor, was substantially outweighed by the prejudicial effect of asking the jury to interpret the results without the assistance of expert testimony. (27) In reaching its decision, the SJC differentiated between inconclusive results and nonexclusion results. (28) The court rejected the Commonwealth's argument that the DNA test results, which were not a match, should be admissible to provide the jury with "descriptive information" about the possible contributor. (29) The SJC determined that admission of the nonexclusion results, without accompanying statistical explanation, unfairly prejudiced the defendant because it forced the jury to evaluate the significance of the results without the assistance of statistical testimony, encouraging jurors to act as their own experts. (30)
In Commonwealth v. Mattei, (31) the SJC had an opportunity to clarify the confusion created by the case-by-case approach previously applied by Massachusetts courts regarding the requirement of supporting statistical analysis when admitting DNA test results that were not a match. (32) The court correctly addressed the issue of possible prejudice by weighing the probative value of the nonexclusion result against its prejudicial effect, but in doing so, it avoided the logical conclusion that should have stemmed from its analysis. (33) Consequently, the SJC failed to establish a clear rule requiring statistical support to accompany any DNA match or nonexclusion result. (34) This decision will likely result in further confusion and conflicting results at the trial court level. (35)
Massachusetts courts require all DNA tests that result in a match to be accompanied by supporting statistical testimony. (36) The SJC recognized in Mattei that the same underlying reasoning requiring statistical information when admitting a match should also apply to a nonexclusion, given the possibility of jury confusion and prejudice that exists with both. (37) Moreover, the SJC stated that admitting a nonexclusion without accompanying statistics "creates a greater risk of misleading the jury and unfairly prejudicing the defendant" than admitting a match without statistical support. (38) Given this concern, the logical conclusion would be to require statistical support for all DNA tests that result in either a match or a nonexclusion. (39) Instead, the SJC chose to analyze admissibility solely using Section 403 to weigh the probative value of the evidence against its prejudicial effect, circumventing the issue of whether statistical support is required to admit future nonexclusion test results. (40)
While the SJC noted the similar concerns that arise when admitting both nonexclusion results and matches, it only conducted a Section 403 weighing, rather than creating a rule requiring probability analysis for any test result deemed consistent with the DNA sample of the defendant. (41) Therefore, lower courts may read the SJC's discussion regarding the need for statistical probability analysis for both nonexclusion and match results as dicta and not binding on future decisions. (42) By avoiding the creation of a rule requiring supporting statistical testimony for nonexclusion test results, the SJC preserved the discretion of trial court judges, but as a result, created further confusion with respect to identifying which types of test results require statistical support. (43) This result may create difficult interpretive issues for trial judges, who will have to make discretionary decisions regarding the admissibility of various forms of DNA evidence without statistical support, possibly leading to inconsistent or conflicting results. (44)
In Commonwealth v. Mattei, the SJC considered the admissibility of DNA evidence that failed to exclude an individual as a possible contributor without an accompanying statistical probability analysis. The court held that the same reasoning that requires DNA tests resulting in a match to be accompanied by statistical analysis should also be applied to nonexclusion results. However, the court then went on to analyze the admission of the nonexclusion test results by conducting a Section 403 analysis instead of creating a rule requiring all nonexclusion results to be accompanied by statistical analysis. As a result, the SJC failed to establish a rule that would provide guidance to lower courts when determining the admissibility of nonexclusion test results. The court's decision preserves the judge's discretion to determine admissibility by conducting a Section 403 weighing of the probative value of DNA evidence, but fails to address the difficult underlying issue of whether statistical support is required for DNA test results that are used to identify an individual in a criminal trial.
(1.) See Commonwealth v. Tobin, 467 N.E.2d 826, 833 (Mass. 1984) (describing judicial discretion to determine relevancy of evidence); see also Green v. Richmond, 337 N.E.2d 691, 699-700 (Mass. 1975) (addressing trial judge's discretion in determining relevancy), abrogated on other grounds by Wilcox v. Trautz, 693 N.E.2d 141 (Mass. 1998); Victor J. Gold, Limiting Judicial Discretion to Exclude Prejudicial Evidence, 18 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 59, 65 (1984) (highlighting importance of judicial discretion). The primary goal of broad judicial discretion is "securing truth through procedural fairness." See Gold, supra, at 65.
(2.) Supreme Judicial Court Advisory Comm. on Mass. Evidence Law, Massachusetts Guide to Evidence 37-39 (2011) [hereinafter Mass. Evidence Guide] (setting forth rule for excluding otherwise relevant evidence). Section 403 states that "[r]elevant evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, misleading the jury, being--unnecessarily time consuming, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence." Id.; see also Commonwealth v. Talbot, 830 N.E.2d 177, 180 n.2 (Mass. 2005) (restating balancing test to determine relevancy); Commonwealth v. Tobin, 467 N.E.2d 826, 833 (Mass. 1984) (outlining relevancy determinations based on weighing probative value against prejudicial effect). Unfair prejudice is "the tendency of the evidence to lead the jury to commit an inferential error." See Gold, supra note 1, at 81.
(3.) See Commonwealth v. Mathews, 882 N.E.2d 833, 844 (Mass. 2008) (describing admissibility of DNA evidence). See generally Jonathan J. Koehler et al., The Random Match Probability in DNA Evidence: Irrelevant and Prejudicial?, 35 Jurimetrics J. 201 (1995) (addressing random match testimony and its prejudicial effect).
(4.) 920 N.E.2d 845 (Mass. 2010).
(5.) Id. at 853-55 (reconsidering DNA nonexclusion test results on appeal).
(6.) See id. at 848 (holding trial court committed reversible error admitting nonexclusion DNA evidence without statistical support). The SJC correctly applied Section 403 when analyzing the trial court's decision to admit the nonexclusion test results. See id. at 859. However, even after stating that a nonexclusion should be analyzed in the same way as a matching DNA test result, the court failed to establish a firm rule requiring supporting statistical testimony regarding the probability of a nonexclusion. See id.
(7.) Id. at 848 n.1 (outlining charges against Mattei). The jury also convicted Mattei of indecent assault and battery on a person fourteen or older, assault with a deadly weapon, and breaking and entering with the intent to commit a felony. Id. The incident occurred when Mattei allegedly entered the house of the victim and attempted to rape her. See id. at 848-49.
(8.) 920 N.E.2d at 852 (differentiating between match, nonexclusion, and inconclusive test results). A match occurs when all thirteen allele sites match the sites of the sample being tested. Id. A nonexclusion occurs when a DNA sample matches the test sample at a number of allele sites--for example, ten out of thirteen sites are consistent with the test sample--but does not meet the strict definition of a match. Id. at 853. A test result that is inconclusive either lacks the necessary amount of DNA to conduct a test or is insufficient to test, therefore producing no result. Id. at 844; see also Commonwealth v. Rosier, 685 N.E.2d 739, 733-34 (Mass. 1997) (describing DNA testing process). See generally William C. Thompson, Are Juries Competent to Evaluate Statistical Evidence?, 52 Law & Contemp. Probs. 9 (1989) (discussing whether jurors can understand and apply statistical testimony).
(9.) See 920 N.E.2d at 852 n.13 (addressing lack of statistical support to assist jury with determining value of testimony). Mattei objected at trial on the grounds that the testimony would be too confusing to jurors and that they might perceive a nonexclusion "as inculpatory of him when it is not." See id.; cf. State v. Patton, 120 P.3d 760, 771 (Kan. 2005) (providing example of statistical significance of nonexclusion result).
(10.) 920 N.E.2d at 858-59 (recalling Commonwealth's emphasis on nonexclusion testimony at trial). The court noted that the Commonwealth relied heavily on the nonexclusion DNA evidence at trial and "encouraged the jury to 'draw an inference' from the evidence that the defendant could not be excluded as a potential source of DNA on the doorknob inside the victim's apartment that the defendant was 'in fact, the assailant in this case.'" Id. at 858. The Commonwealth then used the evidence to urge the jury to infer that Mattei was the individual who attempted to rape the victim based on the fact that the victim's DNA could not be excluded from the sample found on Mattei's sweatpants. See id. at 859. These inferences were crucial to the Commonwealth's case because the victim was legally blind and unable to identify her attacker--no other evidence placed Mattei inside the victim's home. See Commonwealth v. Mattei, 892 N.E.2d 826, 827 (Mass. App. Ct. 2008), rev'd, 920 N.E.2d 845 (Mass. 2010).
(11.) See Commonwealth v. Mattei, 892 N.E.2d 826, 831 (Mass. App. Ct. 2008) (focusing on descriptive information provided by nonexclusion), rev'd, 920 N.E.2d 845 (Mass. 2010); see also Commonwealth v. McNickles, 753 N.E.2d 131, 142-43 (Mass. 2001) (stating descriptive information about perpetrator admissible). Adopting the reasoning from McNickles, the court categorized nonexclusion DNA evidence as descriptive of a person--much like hair color or height--stating that this type of evidence was not "unreliable, irrelevant, or otherwise inadmissible" because these traits can be found in the general public. See Commonwealth v. Mattei, 892 N.E.2d 826, 831 (Mass. App. Ct. 2008) (quoting Commonwealth v. McNickles, 753 N.E.2d 131, 142-43 (Mass. 2001)), rev'd, 920 N.E.2d 845 (Mass. 2010). But see D.H. Kaye, The Admissibility of "Probability Evidence" in Criminal Trials--Part II, 27 Jurimetrics J. 160, 161-62 (1987) (describing importance of accompanying probability analysis for test results).
(12.) See Commonwealth v. Mattei, 892 N.E.2d 826, 831 (Mass. App. Ct. 2008) (characterizing nonexclusion and inconclusive test results as descriptive information), rev'd, 920 N.E.2d 845 (Mass. 2010). The appeals court viewed a nonexclusion in the same light as an inconclusive result, permitting testimony to be admitted without supporting statistical information if the result was descriptive of the defendant and probative of an issue in the case. See id. The court stated:
An additional advantage of using the "cannot be excluded" type of presentation is that it avoids having the jury fixated on the calculation of mathematical odds, instead of on other serious questions, such as whether the defendant was in fact wearing the sweatshirt the day of the crime as contrasted with someone else wearing the defendant's sweatshirt while committing the crime.
Id. at 831 n.7. Justice Rubin, in his dissent, argued that case law requires statistical information to accompany DNA testing that results in a match. See id. at 833-34 (Rubin, J., dissenting).
(13.) See 920 N.E.2d at 857 (distinguishing between inconclusive and nonexclusion results). The SJC, in rejecting the Commonwealth's application of case law pertaining to inconclusive results stated, "[t]he question before us is not whether it was error to admit inconclusive DNA test results." Id. Instead, the court described a nonexclusion as "less than a complete match," stressing the shared likelihood of prejudice inherent in admitting this evidence without statistical support. See id. at 855 (internal quotation marks omitted).
(14.) See id. at 859 (stating new trial appropriate because evidence may have impermissibly swayed jury). The Commonwealth argued that Mattei avoided his opportunity to bring forward the relevant statistical information to support his argument because such results would likely be unfavorable to him, but the court rejected this argument, stating that such a burden falls on the Commonwealth. See id. at 859 n.35; see also infra note 27 (explaining possible prejudicial impact of nonexclusion results without statistical support).
(15.) See Commonwealth v. Mathews, 882 N.E.2d 833, 844-45 (Mass. 2008) (holding admissibility of DNA evidence determined by relevance and on case-by-case basis); see also Mass. Evidence Guide, supra note 2, at 37-39 (describing grounds for excluding otherwise relevant evidence); Gold, supra note 1, at 65-66 (describing discretion of judges in determining relevancy). See generally Peter A. Talieri, Case Comment, Massachusetts Replaces Frye Test with Daubert Standard for Determining Admission of DNA Evidence in Criminal Trials, 29 Suffolk U. L. Rev. 357 (1995) (outlining Massachusetts standard for admissibility of scientific evidence).
(16.) See Commonwealth v. Curnin, 565 N.E.2d 440, 442-43 (Mass. 1991) (discussing relevancy of DNA testing). But cf. Paul C. Giannelli, Criminal Discovery, Scientific Evidence, and DNA, 44 Vand. L. Rev. 791, 797 (1991) (explaining where reliance on scientific evidence increased, standard for expert testimony decreased).
(17.) See infra notes 18-19 (analyzing different approaches taken by Massachusetts courts regarding DNA evidence).
(18.) See Commonwealth v. Curnin, 565 N.E.2d 440, 442-43 (Mass. 1991) (holding DNA tests resulting in match require supporting statistical probability analysis). Test results without supporting statistical explanation are "of little probative value in a criminal prosecution until it is determined how often that combination of alleles occurs in a given population." Id. at 447-48; see also Commonwealth v. Thad T., 796 N.E.2d 869, 87677 (Mass. 2003) (discussing scope of expert DNA testimony). Massachusetts courts have stressed that evidence of a DNA match is insignificant without supporting statistical data as to the probability of such a result occurring at random. See Commonwealth v. Lanigan, 641 N.E.2d 1342, 1346-47 (Mass. 1994); Commonwealth v. Daggett, 622 N.E.2d 272, 274-75 (Mass. 1993) (examining standard for DNA expert testimony). See generally William C. Thompson & Edward L. Schumann, Interpretation of Statistical Evidence in Criminal Trials: The Prosecutor's Fallacy and the Defense Attorney's Fallacy, 11 Law & Hum. Behav. 167 (1987) (experimenting with DNA statistics and jurors' reactions to statistical information).
(19.) See Commonwealth v. Nesbitt, 892 N.E.2d 299, 313-14 (Mass. 2008) (concluding admission of inconclusive test results proper). Mathews illustrates how inconclusive test results can be admitted to prove an issue of consequence other than the identity of the defendant. See Commonwealth v. Mathews, 882 N.E.2d 833, 844 (Mass. 2008). The Mathews court permitted the State to offer the inconclusive results to counter the defense's argument that the police failed to conduct a sufficient investigation by testing DNA. See id.
(20.) See Commonwealth v. Curnin, 565 N.E.2d 440, 443 (Mass. 1991) (discussing judicial discretion with respect to admitting DNA testimony); cf. United States v. Two Bulls, 918 F.2d 56, 61 (8th Cir. 1990) (providing example of approach to statistical probabilities of match when determining admissibility).
(21.) See Commonwealth v. Mathews, 882 N.E.2d 833, 844 (Mass. 2008) (permitting case-by-case evaluation of DNA evidence by trial judge). Compare Commonwealth v. Nesbitt, 892 N.E.2d 299, 314 (Mass. 2008) (holding admission of inconclusive DNA evidence did not create substantial likelihood of miscarriage of justice), with Commonwealth v. McNickles, 753 N.E.2d 131, 142-43 (Mass. 2008) (permitting test results based on descriptive nature), and Commonwealth v. Curnin, 565 N.E.2d 440, 443 (Mass. 1991) (describing DNA test results from generally accepted test method as inherently inconclusive and thus inadmissible). See generally Brown v. Commonwealth, 313 S.W.3d 577, 613-14 (Ky. 2010) (referencing Mattei in determining admissibility); Commonwealth v. Linton, 924 N.E.2d 722, 743-44 (Mass. 2010) (applying Mattei to admission of DNA evidence).
(22.) See Commonwealth v. O'Laughlin, 843 N.E.2d 617, 632-33 (Mass. 2006) (describing failure to exclude evidence as inconclusive); see also Commonwealth v. Benoit, 415 N.E.2d 818, 824 (Mass. 1981) (referring to blood sample which failed to exclude defendant as inconclusive). The court in Mattei addressed the misuse of the terms "inconclusive," "failure to exclude," and "nonexclusion" by acknowledging that Massachusetts courts have applied them interchangeably. See 920 N.E.2d at 857 n.30.
(23.) See, e.g., Peters v. State, 18 P.3d 1224, 1226-27 (Alaska Ct. App. 2001) (holding results "consistent" with defendant's DNA sample inadmissible absent supporting statistical information); Nelson v. State, 628 A.2d 69, 75-76 (Del. 1993) (describing DNA test without accompanying statistical calculations as "meaningless" and inadmissible); State v. Vandebogart, 616 A.2d 483, 494 (N.H. 1992) (concluding match "virtually meaningless" without statistical probability). For the purposes of requiring statistical support in DNA testimony, many states do not differentiate between a match and a nonexclusion. See Peters v. State, 18 P.3d 1224, 1226-27 (Alaska Ct. App. 2001). But see State v. Bander, 208 P.3d 1242, 1255 (Wash. Ct. App. 2009) (admitting testing resulting in failure to exclude despite lack of statistical support). See generally Sherry J. Whitney, Casenote, State v. Bible: The Admissibility of Forensic DNA Profiling and Statistical Probability Evidence in Arizona Criminal Proceedings, 26 Ariz. St. L.J. 593 (1994) (providing background on admissibility of DNA evidence in other jurisdictions).
(24.) See State v. Boles, 933 P.2d 1197, 1198 (Ariz. 1997) (failing to distinguish between match and nonexclusion). Where statistical support of DNA test results is not required, the courts have not differentiated between a match and a nonexclusion. See id.; see also Young v. State, 879 A.2d 44, 47 (Md. 2005) (admitting DNA test resulting in match without accompanying statistical testimony). Evidence was admissible, despite a lack of supporting statistical evidence, where the random match probability was "infinitesimal." See Young v. State, 879 A.2d 44, 45 (Md. 2005); cf. United States v. Mitchell, 502 F.3d 931, 969-70 (9th Cir. 2007) (holding nonexclusion results admissible where defendant did not object to results).
(25.) See Gerald D. Robin, DNA Evidence in Court: The Odds Aren't Even, Crim. Just., Fall 1994, at 12 (describing test process that presented nonexclusion as "seriously flawed"); supra note 13 (detailing nonexclusion as matching some allele site to sample); see also supra note 23 and accompanying text (highlighting other jurisdictions following similar reasoning).
(26.) 920 N.E.2d 845 (Mass. 2010).
(27.) See id. at 848 (describing admission of nonexclusion results as prejudicial). The SJC reasoned that the admission of a nonexclusion test result, without a supporting statistical explanation, could be more prejudicial than a match introduced without the same statistical analysis. See id. at 856. The court based its reasoning on the assumption that a vast majority of the public has a general idea of the probability of a match, but lacks similar knowledge regarding a nonexclusion result. See id. As a result, a jury may be misled into believing that a nonexclusion is similarly conclusive. See id.; see also State v. Patton, 120 P.3d 760, 771 (Kan. 2005) (referencing actual nonexclusion statistics); N.J. Schweitzer & Michael J. Saks, The CSI Effect: Popular Fiction About Forensic Science Affects the Public's Expectations About Real Forensic Science, 47 Jurimetrics J. 357, 359-60 (2007) (analyzing impact of assumptions and knowledge of DNA on criminal trials). Nonexclusion statistical probabilities, in some cases, are much less significant than that of a match. See State v. Patton, 120 P.3d 760, 771 (Kan. 2005).
(28.) See 920 N.E.2d at 857 (differentiating between nonexclusion and inconclusive test results). The SJC noted that the Commonwealth's reliance in the present case on the Mathews decision, which focused on inconclusive test results, was misplaced. See id. Instead, the court stated that the correct approach would be to follow the same reasoning that applies to admission of a match. See id. at 855-56; see also supra note 27 and accompanying text (explaining possible prejudicial impact of nonexclusion results without statistical analysis).
(29.) See 920 N.E.2d at 858 (differentiating between DNA results and descriptive information about physical traits). The SJC previously had failed to make this distinction. See Commonwealth v. McNickles, 753 N.E.2d 131, 143 (Mass. 2001) (noting similarities between DNA results and descriptive information). In Mattei, the SJC reasoned that descriptive information, such as hair color or height, could be readily observed by the general public whereas DNA test results could not. See 920 N.E.2d at 858. As a result, the court held that DNA evidence should not be presented to jurors as information capable of describing a person because of the lack of reliable information with which to compare it. See id.
(30.) 920 N.E.2d at 858-59 (focusing on possible prejudicial impact of DNA test results). The SJC determined that the probative value of the nonexclusion test results was outweighed by the possibility of a prejudicial effect on the jury and stressed the Commonwealth's reliance on the nonexclusion evidence at trial. See id.; see also supra note 10 and accompanying text (describing Commonwealth's reliance on nonexclusion result). See generally Jonathan J. Koehler, The Psychology of Numbers in the Courtroom: How to Make DNA-Match Statistics Seem Impressive or Insufficient, 74 S. Cal. L. Rev. 1275 (2001) (describing presentation of statistics to jurors).
(31.) 920 N.E.2d 845 (Mass. 2010).
(32.) See supra note 21 (detailing conflicting results of case-by-case approach); see also Commonwealth v. Linton, 924 N.E.2d 722, 743-44 (Mass. 2010) (differentiating issues in Mattei and Linton). The Linton court referenced the Mattei decision when failing to require statistical testimony for a nonexclusion. See 924 N.E.2d at 744. Nevertheless, the court in Linton failed to follow the Mattei analysis, reasoning that the value of statistical testimony was not as significant as it was in Mattei. See id.
(33.) See infra note 39 and accompanying text (describing expected results of court's analysis).
(34.) See 920 N.E.2d at 855-56 (pointing to underlying reasoning of nonexclusion being considered match). The SJC refused to apply the descriptive information approach previously taken in Mathews to a nonexclusion result, instead holding that where a test results in a nonexclusion, the test should be analyzed as if it were a match, requiring statistical results to accompany the testimony to be admissible. See id. at 858. After making this distinction, the court analyzed the issue by conducting a Section 403 weighing of the evidence and determined that the evidence was prejudicial. See id. at 858-59; see also infra note 39 and accompanying text (describing court's decision as avoiding necessary result).
(35.) See Commonwealth v. Linton, 924 N.E.2d 722, 743-44 (Mass. 2010) (applying Mattei to nonexclusion result). The court in Linton, which was the first court to address the issue of nonexclusion after the Mattei decision, reasoned that the court in Mattei required additional probability analysis due to the testimony being "crucial" to the Commonwealth's case. See id. at 744. The court then differentiated the facts in Linton from those in Mattei, where the court admitted nonexclusion test results without accompanying probability analysis. See id.; see also Brown v. Commonwealth, 313 S.W.3d 577, 613-14 (Ky. 2010) (describing decision in Mattei as one of mixed results); Gold, supra note 1, at 65 (describing impact of judicial discretion); supra note 21 and accompanying text (describing similar discretionary decisions with conflicting results).
(36.) See supra note 18 and accompanying text (describing Massachusetts case law requiring probability analysis for match results).
(37.) See 920 N.E.2d at 855 (categorizing nonexclusion as type of match). Despite the Commonwealth's urging, the court refused to apply Mathews to the present case. See id. at 857. Instead, the SJC stated that the correct approach would be to follow the same reasoning that applies to the admission of a match. Id. at 855-56. The SJC refused to categorize nonexclusion results as inconclusive. See id. at 857. The court inferred that for a test to result in a nonexclusion there must have been a match of some type at some allele point, describing a nonexclusion as "less than a complete match." See id. at 855.
(38.) See id. at 857 (comparing prejudicial impact of nonexclusion and match results without statistical support).
(39.) See Commonwealth v. Curnin, 565 N.E.2d 440, 443 (Mass. 1991) (requiring statistical probability analysis for tests resulting in match); see also 920 N.E.2d at 855 (requiring application of same reasoning for nonexclusion and match results). As a result, the court should have taken the next logical step in its analysis by requiring that nonexclusion results be accompanied by a probability analysis to be admissible, but instead, the court chose to analyze the issue solely from a Section 403 weighing of the evidence approach. See 920 N.E.2d at 858-59.
(40.) See 920 N.E.2d at 857-59 (focusing on prejudicial effect of admitted nonexclusion testimony). But cf. Commonwealth v. Mattei, 892 N.E.2d 826, 833-34 (Mass. App. Ct. 2008) (Rubin, J., dissenting) (arguing case controlled by Curnin decision), rev'd, 920 N.E.2d 845 (Mass. 2010). Justice Rubin, in his dissent, argued that the admission of a positive result, without explaining the likelihood of such a result occurring, has the potential to force the jurors to act as their own experts. See id. at 835-36.
(41.) See 920 N.E.2d at 858 (describing admission of nonexclusion as prejudicial error); see also id. at 85859 (focusing on possible prejudicial impact of DNA test results). In determining that the admitted test results were unfairly prejudicial, the SJC stressed the emphasis the Commonwealth placed on the nonexclusion evidence at trial. See id.
(42.) See Commonwealth v. Curnin, 565 N.E.2d 440, 443 n.7 (Mass. 1991) (describing inconclusive results as inadmissible). But see Commonwealth v. Mathews, 882 N.E.2d 833, 843 (Mass. 2008) (describing ruling in Curnin regarding inadmissibility of inconclusive results as dicta). The court in Mathews refused to follow Curnin because the DNA-admissibility analysis was not necessary to the judgment. See Commonwealth v. Mathews, 882 N.E.2d 833, 843 (Mass. 2008). Because the court in Mattei originally highlighted the similarities between nonexclusions and matches, but then went on to conduct a Section 403 weighing to reach their decision, Massachusetts trial courts may read the language regarding the similarities as dicta and not binding on future decisions. See id.; cf. Commonwealth v. Linton, 924 N.E.2d 722, 743-44 (Mass. 2010) (refusing to apply Mattei directly).
(43.) See Brown v. Commonwealth, 313 S.W.3d 577, 613-14 (Ky. 2010) (describingMattei decision as one of mixed results); see also supra note 21 (describing past conflicting results).
(44.) See 920 N.E.2d at 855-56 (adopting similar reasoning requiring statistical testimony for matches). Although the court in Mattei stated that nonexclusion results require statistical support to avoid prejudice, it went on to analyze the evidence in the same way it has analyzed inconclusive results in the past. See id. at 855. As a result, trial courts may struggle to determine which standard to apply. See id.; see also Gold, supra note 1, at 65 (describing difficulties of judicial discretion).
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|Author:||Adam, Kevin C.|
|Publication:||Suffolk University Law Review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2011|
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