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DNA Evidence Admissible Under Independent Source Doctrine

The 'independent source' doctrine may come into play when evaluating the admissibility of evidence in a  criminal trial. The doctrine, similar to the doctrine of inevitable discovery, allows for the admissibility of evidence which may have been obtained by unlawful means when the same evidence was also obtained by lawful means independent of any illegality. A typical example may be when evidence inside a residence is discovered by an unlawful entry and then also subsequently discovered during the execution of a valid warrant, based upon facts independent of anything discovered from the unlawful entry. In the recent Tennessee case of State v. Hernandez, M2013-01321-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn.Crim.App. 7-29-2014), the Court of Criminal Appeals relied upon the independent source doctrine to affirm the admissibility of DNA evidence initially obtained unlawfully.

In the Hernandez, case, the defendant was convicted of multiple counts of rape of a child and aggravated sexual battery, arising from allegations of abuse of a young female who was the daughter of a friend of the defendant and with whom the defendant was residing. During the trial, the state introduced forensic DNA evidence somewhat corroborating the testimony of the child victim. On direct appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with the defendant that the DNA sample initially taken from the defendant allegedly by consent and then used to conduct the forensic analysis, was taken non-consensually. However, the defendant was subsequently arrested based upon lawfully obtained evidence independent and separate from the DNA sample. By statute, the defendant's arrest for rape of a child created probable cause to obtain a blood sample for purposes of HIV testing. So after obtaining the initial sample unlawfully, a subsequent DNA sample was obtained lawfully. As the arrest was not based upon any evaluation of the initial sample, it was independent of the initial unlawful procedure. The identifiers within DNA do not change. So the second sample was effectively as good as the first for purposes of conducting DNA forensic analysis, and would yield the same result. Therefore, the Court of Criminal Appeals reasoned that the independent source doctrine applied and the DNA forensic analysis was properly admitted at trial, despite the initial sample having been obtained unlawfully.

For more information on the admissibility of evidence in a criminal trial, contact Hindman & Associates.

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