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Post-Trial Request for DNA Testing Must Meet Statutory Criteria

DNA evidence can be critical evidence in a criminal case. In recent decades, advances in biomedical technology has led to the capability to ascertain information from biological evidence which could not be ascertained before. So, when collected and preserved, Tennessee law allows for post-trial testing of available DNA evidence if the results could have been helpful to the accused at the trial stage, but was not tested or could not be tested then. Of course, DNA testing is not cheap or easy. So certain statutory criteria must be met to qualify for post-trial testing. As the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals noted in the recent case of Tolley v. State, W2011-01816-CCA-MR3-PC (Tenn.Crim.App. 10-25-2012), the request must specify what evidence exists which could be further tested and lead to exculpatory results.

In the Tolley case, the Defendant had originally pled guilty to three counts of aggravated sexual battery and two counts of rape of a child. He later filed a petition for post-conviction relief requesting DNA analysis. The trial court summarily dismissed the petition and that ruling was affirmed on appeal. The problem with Mr. Tolley's request was that there was no available physical evidence to test in his case. No physical evidence had been collected or preserved and the allegations against him were not based on physical evidence. They were based on statements of the victims and recorded statements from Mr. Tolley. Mr. Tolley's petition did not describe what evidence he thought should be tested. Nor was there anything to test. So his request for testing was denied.

Physical evidence may play a lead role, a supporting role, or no role at all in a criminal case. For post-trial DNA testing, there must be physical evidence available which can be tested, and which has not already been tested (or which can be subject to further analysis which can resolve an issue not previously resolved). In addition, there must be a reasonable probability that the petitioner would not have been prosecuted or convicted if exculpatory results were obtained from the analysis. A trial court can, in its discretion, order the testing if it is reasonably probable that the results could have led to a more favorable outcome for the petitioner. A trial court must also determine that the application for analysis is for demonstrating actual innocence, and not simply a delay tactic.

For more information on whether post-trial DNA analysis may be available under the circumstances of a specific case, contact Hindman & Associates.

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