Opinion Analysis: That the expert witness did not perform the forensic testing himself goes to the weight not the admissibility of the test result in United States v. Katso, No. 14-5008/AF
CAAF decied the certified Air Force case of United States v. Katso, __ M.J. __, No. 14-5008/AF (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Tuesday, June 30, 2015. CAAF holds that the testimony of an expert witness did not violate the appellee’s constitutional right to confront the witnesses against him, reversing the published decision of the Air Force CCA and remanding the case for further proceedings.
Judge Ryan writes for the court, joined by all but Judge Ohlson, who dissents.
The published opinion of the Air Force CCA provides the following facts:
While celebrating her 21st birthday with several friends, Senior Airman (SrA) CA became intoxicated after consuming between 15 and 20 drinks over the course of the evening. At an off-base bar and unable to return to the base on her own, she was assisted back to her room and fell asleep on her bed. SrA CA testified that she woke up when she felt “someone having sex with [her].” She said she was attacked by someone wearing denim pants, glasses, a beanie cap, and a coat. After SrA CA struggled against him, her assailant left, and SrA CA ran into another room and told a friend she had been raped. SrA CA subsequently identified [appellee] as her attacker.
United States v. Katso, 73 M.J. 630, __, slip op. at 2 (A.F. Ct. Crim. App. Apr. 11, 2014). DNA samples were collected from both SrA CA and the appellee. The samples were sent to the United States Army Criminal Investigations Laboratory (USACIL) for analysis, where a forensic examiner named Mr. Fisher conducted an examination and produced a report that showed a match between the appellee’s DNA profile and semen found in the samples taken from CA. In accordance with USACIL procedure, Mr. Fisher’s report was then reviewed by a second examiner, Mr. Davenport.
The Government intended to call Mr. Fisher to testify at trial about the DNA results, but he was unavailable due to a family emergency. So the Government offered the expert testimony of Mr. Davenport instead. Mr. Davenport testified over the objection of the Defense, which objected on confrontation grounds. The military judge overruled the Defense objection, ruling that Mr. Davenport could testify about his independent findings. But a three-judge panel of the Air Force CCA unanimously concluded that Mr. Davenport improperly repeated testimonial hearsay from Mr. Fisher during his trial testimony, and that this violated the appellee’s right to confrontation. The panel then split 2-1 to find that error prejudicial, reversed the convictions, and authorized a rehearing.
The Government certified the case to CAAF, with the following issue:
Whether the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals erred when it found Appellee’s Sixth Amendment right to confrontation was violated when the military judge permitted, over Defense objection, the testimony of the Government’s DNA expert, and that the error was not harmless
CAAF now reinstates the appellee’s convictions of aggravated sexual assault, burglary, and unlawful entry. Judge Ryan’s majority opinion conducts a detailed Confrontation Clause analysis of the testimony of Mr. Davenport, however her ultimate conclusions are solidly based on CAAF’s own precedent. Specifically, as Judge Ryan explains:
In the absence of clear guidance from the Supreme Court, we are bound, within the constraints discernible from controlling precedent, to provide a clear rule for the military justice system. Fortunately, we already have a rule. This Court’s precedent makes clear that even when an expert relies in part upon “statements” by an out-of-court declarant, the admissibility of the expert’s opinion hinges on the degree of independent analysis the expert undertook in order to arrive at that opinion. Blazier II, 69 M.J. at 224-25.
Slip op. at 24. Applying this clear rule, Judge Ryan concludes:
Experts may “review and rely upon the work of others, including laboratory testing conducted by others, so long as they reach their own opinions in conformance with evidentiary rules regarding expert opinions.” Blazier II, 69 M.J. at 224. That is precisely what happened here.
Slip op. at 25.