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Court Addresses Relevance and Admissibility of DNA Evidence in Arizona Sexual Assault Case

A significant type of evidence in Arizona sexual offense cases is the DNA recovered from rape kits. Rape kits are the physical evidence and notes from an assault victim’s examination. The physical evidence usually contains DNA such as hair, blood, bodily fluids, clothes and belongings of the victim, and physical evidence from the crime scene. In some cases, the rape kit findings are the primary evidence used against a defendant. However, rape kit findings do not necessarily equate with forced or unlawful sexual conduct. Arizona courts will evaluate the probative value of DNA findings and if the evidence is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.

For example, recently, the Supreme Court of the State of Arizona issued an opinion stemming from a sexual assault case. In that case, an Uber driver picked up a passenger who sat in the front passenger seat. The driver claimed that the passenger forcibly tore her clothes off and assaulted her. The driver went on to report the crime and received a rape kit. The passenger later texted the driver apologizing for his “out of line” behavior; however, he later denied any non-consensual behavior.

During the trial, a DNA analyst matched the defendant’s DNA evidence with the contents of the rape kit performed on the victim. However, the defendant argued that there were only two markers that connected him to the victim. As such, he filed a motion in limine to exclude a portion of the DNA evidence. The trial court convicted him, and the appeals court reversed the conviction holding that the evidence was improperly admitted.

On reviewing the matter, The Supreme Court discussed that Rule 403 of evidence states that a “court may exclude evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed” by prejudice, confusion, or potential to mislead a jury. In cases involving the admissibility of DNA evidence, courts undergo a thorough fact-specific analysis of the case. In this case, the DNA evidence was not used to identify the defendant; instead, his testimony and other evidence established that the defendant was in the front seat. An essential issue was whether a man other than the victim’s husband touched her genitals. In this case, the defendant argued that he did not touch the victim’s genitals. Therefore, the DNA evidence only established that another man touched the woman’s genitals that day. Here, the court found that it was within the trial court’s discretion to admit the DNA evidence, for the limited purpose of showing that a sexual assault occurred. As such, the Supreme Court did not find an error in the admittance.

Have You Been Accused of Sexual Offense in Arizona?

If you or someone you love faces Arizona sexual assault charges, contact the Law Office of James E. Novak. Attorney Novak is a premier Arizona criminal defense attorney representing clients in a broad range of criminal matters. He handles Arizona criminal defense claims stemming from DUIs, marijuana crimes, vehicular charges, theft charges, property crimes, sexual offenses, and felony offenses. Attorney Novak provides clients with respect, dignity, and zealous advocacy. Contact his office at 480-413-1499, to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your criminal defense.

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