955 F.2d 786 (2nd Cir. 1992), 52, United States v. Jakobetz

Docket Nº:52, Docket 91-1125.
Citation:955 F.2d 786
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Appellee, v. Randolph JAKOBETZ, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:January 09, 1992
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

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955 F.2d 786 (2nd Cir. 1992)

UNITED STATES of America, Appellee,


Randolph JAKOBETZ, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 52, Docket 91-1125.

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

January 9, 1992

Argued Sept. 11, 1991.

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William K. Sessions, III, Middlebury, Vt. (Sessions, Keiner, Dumont, Barnes & Everitt, Bonnie Barnes, of counsel), for defendant-appellant.

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Charles A. Caruso, Burlington, Vt., Acting U.S. Atty., D. Vt. (George J. Terwilliger, III, U.S. Atty., D. Vt., David V. Kirby, Chief, Criminal Div., John P. Tavana, Asst. U.S. Atty., of counsel), for appellee.

Before NEWMAN, and PRATT, Circuit Judges, and MILTON POLLACK, District Judge for the Southern District of New York, sitting by designation.

GEORGE C. PRATT, Circuit Judge:

Defendant Randolph B. Jakobetz appeals from his conviction for kidnapping, 18 U.S.C. § 1201(a)(1), based on a jury verdict in the United States District Court for the District of Vermont, Franklin S. Billings, Jr., Chief Judge. He was sentenced to 350 months incarceration followed by five years of supervised release, and restitution of $2,102. Jakobetz complains of several evidentiary rulings, the most important of which is the court's permitting DNA profiling evidence. He also challenges several aspects of his sentence.

Although it arises from relatively simple facts, the primary issue on this appeal raises a complicated question regarding the admissibility of complex "novel" scientific evidence--the results of DNA profiling analysis, an issue which, on a pretrial motion in limine, occupied eight full days of hearings before the district court. The court heard testimony from nine experts, five for the government and four for the defense. After these lengthy hearings, Judge Billings credited the testimony of the government's experts and held that the DNA evidence was sufficiently reliable to be presented to the jury.

To resolve this primary issue, one of first impression in this circuit, we consider whether and under what circumstances, the results of DNA profiling evidence should be admissible in a criminal trial. The DNA analysis in this case was performed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") in its forensic laboratory to compare a blood sample taken from defendant Jakobetz with a semen sample obtained from a vaginal swab of a female victim allegedly kidnapped and raped by Jakobetz. The FBI concluded that the DNA profiles from the two samples constituted a "match" and calculated that there was one chance in 300 million that the DNA from the semen sample could have come from someone in the Caucasian population other than Jakobetz.

The probability numbers in this case illustrate how devastating such evidence can be against a criminal defendant. Realistically, the results of such testing can be so dramatic as to become virtually dispositive on the question of identity, which often determines a defendant's guilt or innocence. Jakobetz asks us to hold that the DNA evidence should never have been submitted to a jury. After careful consideration, however, we decline to so hold.

To place this question in context, we will first describe the facts surrounding this crime. We will then discuss, albeit in greatly simplified terms, the scientific background of DNA profiling, as well as the techniques used to develop the relevant evidence. Next, we will look to the legal standards of admissibility and determine which standard applies to these circumstances. Ultimately, we will determine that the district court did not err by allowing the FBI's DNA results into evidence. Finally, we will briefly address the other, lesser issues raised by Jakobetz.


The underlying facts in this case are straightforward. A young woman from Burlington, Vermont, travelling south on vacation, stopped at a rest area along Interstate 91 in Westminster, Vermont, to make a telephone call and to use the rest room. On her way out of the rest room, she was grabbed from behind, thrown to the floor, handcuffed, her mouth stuffed with paper towels, and her head covered with a pillowcase. She was then forced into the back of a tractor-trailer, which began to move almost immediately.

Approximately half an hour later, the tractor-trailer stopped. Jakobetz entered the back of the trailer and proceeded to brutally and repeatedly rape and sexually assault his victim. Before leaving, he removed the handcuffs from the woman's

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hands and tied them with a length of rope. Jakobetz then drove for approximately two hours before he stopped to check on his victim. Because he stopped in a well-lit area, the victim was able to see Jakobetz through the pillowcase when he opened the back of the trailer. Jakobetz continued to drive for another two hours before stopping again--this time to release the victim. He left her on the roadside in the Bronx, New York.

After looking for help for approximately half an hour, the woman was finally able to get assistance from a passing motorist who called the police. The New York Police Department transported her to a hospital where she received treatment. A semen sample, taken from a swab of the woman's vagina, was sent to the FBI laboratory for DNA analysis.

When the woman returned to Vermont, she examined her vehicle and noticed that her purse was missing, as was a travel bag containing cosmetics, cassette tapes, some bathing suits, and a 35mm camera borrowed from her father. The camera contained a roll of partially exposed film.

An investigation ensued immediately. Telephone records for the pay phones located at the Westminster rest area indicated that immediately prior to the telephone call made by the victim, someone had made a 46-minute, collect call to a number in Schuyler Falls, New York, listed under the name of P. Zanon. Further investigation revealed that P. Zanon was married to Jakobetz.

Jakobetz drove a truck for Wildcat Construction Company in St. Albans Bay, Vermont. That company's records revealed that Jakobetz had departed St. Albans Bay en route to Westbury, Long Island, New York, on June 13, 1989, the day of the kidnapping. His route included Interstate 95 through Westminster, Vermont. Expense reports submitted by Jakobetz included a New York Transit Authority toll receipt for travel across the Throgs Neck Bridge, which connects the Bronx, New York, with Queens, Long Island, and lies along Jakobetz's most direct route to Westbury, Long Island, Jakobetz's destination. The receipt was time-stamped at 3:28 a.m. on June 14, 1989; the woman had been released at approximately 3:00 a.m. on June 14, 1989, and the travel time from where she was released to the Throgs Neck Bridge was approximately thirty minutes.

Wildcat Construction Company allowed law enforcement officials to search the trailer hauled by Jakobetz on June 13, 1989. The search revealed samples of head hair and pubic hair which matched those of the young woman. Armed with warrants, officers searched Jakobetz's home, his personal vehicle, and his tractor-trailer cab. In the cab, they found handcuff keys, two knives, and two green pillow cases similar to those described by the victim. In Jakobetz's home, they found a set of handcuffs. In a shed behind his residence, they found nine rolls of undeveloped 35mm film. The film had not been specified in the search warrants, and the government did not develop the film until after November 29, 1989, when authorization was obtained by court order. One of the rolls of film contained pictures taken during a fishing trip by the victim's father and his friends. The camera that disappeared from the victim's car had been lent to her by her father and it had contained partially exposed film.

From a photographic lineup containing a picture of Jakobetz that had been obtained from New York State authorities, who had used the picture in a separate criminal proceeding, the victim positively identified Jakobetz as the man who had abducted and raped her.

Before the case went to trial, Jakobetz moved to suppress the photo display as well as all the evidence obtained in the searches of his residence, his car, and his cab. The district court denied the motion with respect to the photo display and any evidence that was seized pursuant to the search warrants, but it did suppress all seized evidence that was not particularized in the warrants. Jakobetz also moved in limine to prohibit introduction of the government's DNA profile evidence. After an extensive hearing, discussed in detail below, this motion was also denied.

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During the trial, various government witnesses, including the victim, testified about the offense and the ensuing investigation. The woman identified Jakobetz in the courtroom as the man who had kidnapped and raped her. The government also presented the testimony of a special agent of the FBI, one of the four experts it had used during the admissibility hearings. The agent testified regarding the DNA test results as well as the methods and procedures used to obtain the results. In addition to other defense testimony, Jakobetz used the testimony of two of its five experts to try to discredit the DNA evidence during trial.

On October 1, 1990, the jury found Jakobetz guilty.


Before we analyze the general problems surrounding the admissibility of novel scientific evidence, we shall consider the nature of the particular scientific evidence at issue in this case. A general understanding of the scientific theories and procedures involved here is necessary to understand the legal and practical impact of such evidence. If a more comprehensive description of DNA and its analysis is desired, the district court's opinion on...

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