Taylor v. State

Decision Date31 January 1995
Docket NumberNo. F-89-707,F-89-707
Citation1995 OK CR 10,889 P.2d 319
PartiesMichael Anthony TAYLOR, Appellant, v. The STATE of Oklahoma, Appellee.
CourtUnited States State Court of Criminal Appeals of Oklahoma. Court of Criminal Appeals of Oklahoma
OPINION

CHAPEL, Vice Presiding Judge:

Michael Anthony Taylor was tried by a jury and convicted of First Degree Burglary in violation of 21 O.S.Supp.1982, § 1431 (Count I), First Degree Rape in violation of 21 O.S.Supp.1986, § 1114 (Count II), Forcible Oral Sodomy in violation of 21 O.S.1981, § 888 (Counts III and IV) and First Degree Robbery in violation of 21 O.S.1981, § 801 (Count V), all after former conviction of two or more felonies, in the District Court of Oklahoma County, Case No. CRF-88-3222. In accordance with the jury's recommendation, the Honorable Jack R. Parr sentenced Taylor to fifteen years imprisonment each on Counts I and V, and ninety-nine years imprisonment each on Counts II, III and IV. Judge Parr ordered the sentences to run consecutively.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On May 23, 1988, a man broke a window and entered S.H.'s home. A.H., S.H.'s mother, was asleep on the couch in the living room. S.H. saw the intruder and ran to the living room to call the police. The intruder grabbed the phone from S.H. and demanded money. She gave him $135.00. He subsequently forced both S.H. and A.H. to orally sodomize him. He also raped S.H.

S.H. helped police design a composite sketch of her assailant, who was black. On the basis of this drawing, police identified and apprehended Taylor. He voluntarily provided officials from the Oklahoma County Police Department with samples of his saliva, hair and blood. Police also prepared a standard rape kit with blood and semen samples collected from S.H. and A.H. Oral washings and blood and semen samples from their clothing were also collected.

When conventional comparison testing of all these samples proved inconclusive, they were sent to Lifecodes Corporation1 to be analyzed using a procedure called DNA2 Print Identification.3 Scientists at Lifecodes concluded that the DNA in Taylor's blood sample "matched" the DNA in the semen found on the victims' clothing.

At defense counsel's request, the trial court held an in camera hearing to determine whether DNA testing met the admissibility standard set forth in Frye v. United States.4 The sole witness was State's expert Dr. Jay S. Hanous, faculty member of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine.5 He described the DNA profiling procedure (restriction fragment length polymorphism or "RFLP" analysis) Lifecodes used to type Taylor's DNA and stated that most laboratories follow it. Hanous testified that he spoke with people from Lifecodes, reviewed its protocols6 and concluded that the steps it follows when conducting its experiments are consistent with accepted practices in the field of genetics. When asked about the probability statistics Lifecodes used to illustrate the likelihood that Taylor's DNA pattern could be found in another human being, Hanous testified that the scientific community accepted as reliable the procedure Lifecodes followed in making the calculation.

After hearing Hanous's testimony, the trial court ruled that DNA profiling generally and the particular procedures followed by Lifecodes in this case met the Frye standard. Over defense counsel's objection, the trial court allowed Hanous and two other Lifecodes scientists to testify before the jury. Dr. John Coleman performed the DNA test procedure on the samples taken from Taylor and the victims. He explained the procedure he followed, stating that the results showed a match between Taylor's DNA and the DNA extracted from the semen samples found on the victims' clothing.

Dr. Michael Baird7 monitored the test Coleman performed and testified it was done correctly and in accordance with standard procedures. He also stated that Taylor's specimen matched the DNA taken from the victims "within a reasonable degree of scientific certainty...."8 Baird testified that only one in 97 million African Americans possess the same genetic pattern identified in Taylor's DNA and matched with the DNA extracted from the specimens found on the victims.9 While Baird conceded that errors are possible during laboratory testing in general, he testified that a mistake made during DNA testing is more likely to generate no result rather than an incorrect one.10

Taylor filed his initial appellate brief on August 24, 1990, claiming, among other things, that the results from the DNA profiling should not have been admitted against him. After concluding that the case presented a question of first impression in our jurisdiction,11 this Court on February 18, 1992, remanded Taylor's case to the district court and ordered an evidentiary hearing to determine the following: whether DNA fingerprinting is generally accepted in the scientific community; whether the statistical conclusions derived from DNA fingerprinting are generally accepted in the scientific community; and, whether the procedures used in Taylor's case comported with generally accepted scientific procedures. We also ordered that State funds be used to hire experts to assist Taylor in presenting and defending his position.

The evidentiary hearing was conducted in two parts before the Honorable John M. Amick, District Judge. The first was on August 5, 6 and 10 of 1992; the second was on May 17, 1993. The State presented five expert witnesses; Taylor presented two. Judge Amick filed his Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law on August 30, 1993. Based upon the evidentiary hearing testimony, Judge Amick found that the DNA evidence was properly admitted against Taylor. He concluded that DNA testing and related statistical conclusions are generally accepted in the scientific community. He also found that the scientific procedures conducted in this case were performed in accordance with generally accepted standards.

In a supplemental proposition filed after the evidentiary hearing,12 Taylor claims the Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law are clearly erroneous and should not be used to uphold the trial judge's admission of the DNA evidence against him. Taylor argues that the DNA match evidence and accompanying statistics were obtained through procedures which have not gained general acceptance in the scientific community and should therefore have been excluded under Frye. As a second basis for exclusion, he claims that Lifecodes failed to properly perform the procedures in question.13 In its brief response, the State maintains that DNA profiling has gained general acceptance among scientists and appellate courts, and that any doubts about the manner in which the tests at issue were performed affected only the weight of the evidence and were thus properly left to the factfinder. We affirm the evidentiary hearing judge's determination that the DNA match evidence and accompanying statistics were properly admitted against Taylor.

II. OVERVIEW OF DNA PROFILING

DNA is the "fundamental natural material which determines the genetic characteristics of all life forms."14 Most of the DNA structure in one human being is identical to the DNA structure of another.15 With the exception of identical twins, however, a small percentage of an individual's DNA structure is different from that of another individual.16 These differing DNA sites "apparently do not encode any observable human characteristics" and thus are often referred to as "junk" DNA.17

Even some of these unique patterns or "polymorphisms" within one individual may be similar to those in another, so that "the probability that two individuals in a given population will share similar polymorphic sequences ranges from less tha[n] one percent to over thirty percent."18 Thus, in an effort to obtain through the DNA matching process the most individualized picture possible of one person's genetic structure, scientists have determined that more than one polymorphic sequence per individual specimen must be analyzed.19 The astounding odds against two individuals sharing an equal number of the same DNA sequence at several of these highly polymorphic sites makes DNA profiling an effective forensic tool20 in criminal cases.21

One state court has provided a highly simplified and thus helpful categorization of the overall DNA testing process.22 First, the laboratory creates a DNA "print" or profile.23 Second, a qualified person determines whether the profiles of two samples match.24 If the samples match, a population genetics formula is then used to determine the probability that a randomly selected individual would have possessed the same DNA sequences at common polymorphic sites.

III. STANDARD OF ADMISSIBILITY

The admission of expert testimony is governed generally by 12 O.S.1981, § 2702, which provides that

[i]f scientific, technical or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise.

Section 2702 sets forth the guidelines for determining whether a particular witness is qualified to testify as an expert, or whether the subject about which the expert will testify would actually assist the trier of fact in reaching its conclusion.25 Oklahoma currently imposes an additional admissibility requirement upon expert testimony concerning "novel" scientific evidence, such as DNA profiling evidence. This type of evidence may be admitted only if the uncommon procedure or theory about which the...

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