Turner v. State

Decision Date16 January 1998
Citation746 So.2d 355
PartiesEx parte State of Alabama. Re Andre Dwight TURNER v. STATE.
CourtAlabama Supreme Court

Bill Pryor, atty. gen., and Frances R. Clement, asst. atty. gen., for petitioner.

W. Lloyd Copeland of Clark, Deen & Copeland, P.C., Mobile, for respondent.

SEE, Justice.

This case concerns the admissibility of deoxyribonucleic acid ("DNA") evidence under Ala.Code 1975, § 36-18-30. The trial court held that DNA evidence was admissible to show that Andre Dwight Turner was connected to a murder scene. The jury convicted him of two counts of capital murder. The trial court sentenced Turner to life in prison without parole. The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the judgment of conviction, Turner v. State, 746 So.2d 352 (Ala.Crim.App.1996), holding that the State had failed to satisfy the standard set forth in Ex parte Perry, 586 So.2d 242 (Ala.1991), for the admissibility of its DNA evidence. We granted certiorari review to determine whether §§ 36-18-20 to -30, Ala.Code 1975, which were added to the Code in 1994, supersede the Perry standard. Because we hold that they do, we reverse and remand.

In 1992, the police found Ms. Ollie and her nephew, L.C., brutally stabbed to death in their home. Ms. Ollie had suffered 34 stab wounds from a butcher knife. L.C. had suffered 15. Police officers, who were observing a group of people standing in front of the home, noticed Turner washing his hand in a nearby puddle of water. When the officers approached him, they noticed that the puddle was bloody and that Turner had a cut on his hand. They arrested him.

At Turner's trial, the State offered DNA evidence to show that the DNA in blood samples recovered from the house occupied by Ms. Ollie and L.C. was consistent with Turner's DNA. The trial court held a hearing, without the jury, to determine the admissibility of the DNA evidence. At the hearing, Elaine Scott, a forensic serologist with the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences, testified regarding: (1) DNA matching evidence; and (2) DNA population frequency statistical evidence. DNA matching evidence shows that one sample of DNA "matches," or resembles, another sample of DNA within a permissible range of error. DNA population frequency statistical evidence concerns the frequency with which a given DNA pattern might occur in a given population.1 The trial court admitted both types of evidence.

At trial, Scott testified: (1) that the DNA samples taken from the murder scene matched Turner's DNA; and (2) that the odds of finding Turner's particular DNA profile are 1 in 42,410,000 in the black population and 1 in 179,700,000 in the white population. The jury convicted Turner of two counts of capital murder.

In the Court of Criminal Appeals, Turner argued that the DNA population frequency statistical evidence had not met the Perry standard of admissibility. The Court of Criminal Appeals, applying the Perry standard, held that the DNA evidence was inadmissible because the State had failed to show that the generally accepted testing techniques that produced the DNA population frequency statistical evidence were properly performed in this case.

I. The Perry Standard

In the 1991 Perry decision, this Court addressed the admissibility of DNA evidence:

"In Alabama, whether novel scientific evidence is admissible is determined normally by using the test established in Frye v. United States, 293 F. 1013 (D.C.Cir.1923). In Frye, a criminal defendant sought to introduce evidence concerning a systolic blood pressure lie detector test. In affirming the trial court's exclusion of the evidence, the court wrote:"
"Just when a scientific principle or discovery crosses the line between the experimental and demonstrable stages is difficult to define. Somewhere in this twilight zone the evidential force of the principle must be recognized, and while courts will go a long way in admitting expert testimony deduced from a well-recognized scientific principle or discovery, the thing from which the deduction is made must be sufficiently established to have gained general acceptance in the particular field in which it belongs."
"293 F. at 1014."
"Other courts have discussed what Frye requires to permit the introduction of DNA evidence and whether the Frye requirements should be modified somewhat in relation to the admission of DNA evidence. Cf..... United States v. Two Bulls, 918 F.2d 56 (8th Cir. 1990)...."

Perry, 586 So.2d at 247-48.

This Court noted that in addition to the results of the Frye "general acceptance" test, whether error occurred in the performance of the tests in a particular case also was of legitimate concern:

"`It is the view of this court that given the complexity of the DNA multi-system identification tests and the powerful impact that they may have on a jury, passing muster under Frye alone is insufficient to place this type of evidence before a jury without a preliminary, critical examination of the actual testing procedures performed in a particular case.'"

Perry, 586 So.2d at 248 (quoting Castro, 144 Misc.2d at 959-60, 545 N.Y.S.2d at 987-88 (citations omitted)). This Court then quoted with approval the opinion of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in United States v. Two Bulls, 918 F.2d 56, 61 (8th Cir.1990), which applied the Frye general acceptance test, plus a factor dealing with the performance of generally accepted testing techniques on the evidence at issue:

"`The trial court is to decide (1) whether the DNA evidence is generally accepted by the scientific community, (2) whether the testing procedures used in this case are generally accepted as reliable if performed properly, [and] (3) whether the test was performed properly in this case....'"

Perry, 586 So.2d at 249 (quoting Two Bulls, 918 F.2d at 61) (emphasis added). This Court embraced the "Frye-plus" standard (that is, general acceptance of the type of theory and technique relied upon plus an examination of the performance of the techniques in the particular case), adopting the following three-pronged test for the admission of DNA evidence in Alabama trials:

"I. Is there a theory, generally accepted in the scientific community, that supports the conclusion that DNA forensic testing can produce reliable results?
"II. Are there current techniques that are capable of producing reliable results in DNA identification and that are generally accepted in the scientific community?
"III. In this particular case, did the testing laboratory perform generally accepted scientific techniques without error in the performance or interpretation of the tests?"

Perry, 586 So.2d at 250.

II. The Daubert Standard

In 1993, two years after this Court's Perry decision, the Supreme Court of the United States overruled the "austere" Frye standard for the admissibility of expert scientific evidence in federal trials. Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 125 L.Ed.2d 469 (1993). In Daubert, 509 U.S. at 589, 113 S.Ct. at 2794-95, the Supreme Court concluded that Rule 702, Fed.R.Evid., displaced the Frye standard. The Court stated:

"Frye made `general acceptance' the exclusive test for admitting expert scientific testimony. That austere standard, absent from, and incompatible with, the Federal Rules of Evidence, should not be applied in federal trials.
". . . .
"... [U]nder the Rules the trial judge must ensure that any and all scientific testimony or evidence admitted is not only relevant, but reliable."

Daubert, 509 U.S. at 589, 113 S.Ct. at 2794-95 (emphasis added). Thus, if scientific evidence passes the two-pronged test of Daubert—reliability and relevance—it will be admissible and the jury will determine the appropriate weight to give that evidence.

The "reliability" prong of the Daubert admissibility test requires the party proffering the scientific evidence to establish that the evidence constitutes "scientific knowledge." Daubert, 509 U.S. at 590,113 S.Ct. at 2795. The evidence need not represent immutable scientific fact, but, rather, it must be derived by use of the "scientific method."2Id. The trial court should focus its inquiry on the expert's "principles and methodology, not on the conclusions that they generate." Id. at 595, 113 S.Ct. at 2797. Thus, the reliability inquiry should address the "scientific validity"3 of the principle asserted, that is, whether the "principle support[s] what it purports to show." Daubert, 509 U.S. at 590 n. 9,113 S.Ct. at 2795 n. 9.

In assessing reliability, trial courts should look to several guiding factors, including: (1) whether the "theory or technique... has been ... tested"; (2) whether the "theory or technique has been subjected to peer review and publication"; (3) whether the technique's "known or potential rate of error ... and ... standards controlling the technique's operation" are acceptable; and (4) whether the theory or technique has gained "general acceptance" in the relevant scientific community. Id. at 593-94, 113 S.Ct. at 2796-97.

The "relevance" prong of the Daubert admissibility test requires the party proffering the scientific evidence to establish that the evidence "assist[s] the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue." Daubert, 509 U.S. at 591, 113 S.Ct. at 2796 (quoting Rule 702, Fed.R.Evid.). The trial court should focus on the connection between the proffered scientific evidence and the factual issues. Id. at 591-92, 113 S.Ct. at 2795-96. Thus, the relevance inquiry should address the "fit" between what the scientific principles and methods are supposed to show and what must be shown to resolve the factual dispute at trial. Id.

In 1994, the Alabama Legislature specifically addressed the admissibility of DNA evidence when it established a state DNA data bank. Act No. 94-804, Acts of Alabama 1994. The Legislature made several findings, including:

"(d) That genetic identification technology through

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