In criminal cases, DNA evidence is often seen as a strong indicator of the defendant’s guilt. Not many cases have DNA evidence presented by the state, but when the state does present DNA evidence, juries usually take note. DNA evidence is certainly well established evidence at this point that can be difficult for a criminal defense lawyer to refute. However, DNA evidence does not necessarily mean what the state wants it to mean or what the state argues it means to the jury.
In a recent case south of Jacksonville, Florida, the police responded to a burglary call. When they arrived, they arrested the suspected burglar and then checked the apartment for evidence. Inside the apartment, the police found a gun in the bedroom. Because the occupant of the apartment was a convicted felon, the police arrested him for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
Although it is rare, the police tested the gun for fingerprints and DNA and found viable DNA on the gun. The DNA matched the defendant who lived in the apartment. The police also found the presence of other DNA on the gun but did not test any of the DNA to see if it matched with the burglar. The state argued that since the gun was found in the defendant’s apartment and had his DNA on it, the defendant was guilty of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
The defendant’s conviction was ultimately reversed. The state failed to refute two counterarguments to their DNA evidence. First, while the DNA on the gun may have proven that the defendant possessed the gun at some point, the expert could not testify as to when that DNA evidence made its way onto the gun. It was possible that the defendant touched the gun, and transferred his DNA onto the gun, prior to becoming a convicted felon. Since that possibility was not foreclosed by the state, the conviction was not proper. Additionally, the state did not deal with the possibility of secondary transfer of DNA. The state’s expert acknowledged that a person can transfer another person’s DNA to an object by touching both objects in succession. Since it was clear that a burglar had been in the apartment before the police found the gun, it was possible that the burglar touched something with the defendant’s DNA on it and transferred the defendant’s DNA to the gun by handling it as well. As a result, despite the DNA evidence, the state did not prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.