CAAFlog » September 2015 Term » United States v. Henning

CAAF decided the interlocutory Army case of United States v. Henning, 75 M.J. 187, No. 16-0026/AR (CAAFlog case page) (link to slip op.), on Monday, March 21, 2016. Directly reviewing the military judge’s ruling – without considering the opinion of the Army CCA that reversed the judge – CAAF concludes that the military judge did not abuse his discretion when he excluded DNA evidence. CAAF reverses the CCA’s decision, reinstates the military judge’s ruling, and lifts a stay of the trial proceedings.

Chief Judge Erdmann writes for a unanimous court.

The accused is charged with “waking the alleged victim by touching her breast, then wrongfully penetrating her vagina with his tongue before moving her to the floor and allegedly raping her.” Slip op. at 2. The DNA evidence at issue is from genetic material found in the alleged victim’s underwear that matches a sample from the accused but would also match a sample from approximately 1 in 220 unrelated individuals in the general population.

The DNA analysis was performed by the Kansas City Police Crime Laboratory using a modified version of the Scientific Working Group on DNA Analysis Methods (SWGDAM) guidelines. Further, beyond the modified analytical formula, the analysis involved a very small sample of genetic material consisting of “the equivalent to three or four human cells.” Slip op. at 5. According to a defense expert witness, “the slight amount of DNA analyzed was about one-fiftieth the amount recommended for a reliable result.” Slip op. at 4.

The defense challenged the admissibility of the DNA evidence and the military judge concluded that the results were unreliable and suppressed them. However, the Army CCA reversed after concluding that some of the judge’s findings of fact (regarding the procedure used by the laboratory) were clearly erroneous and also that his conclusions of law were erroneous. CAAF then stayed the trial proceedings and granted review of a single issue:

Whether the Army Court applied the wrong standard of review to this Article 62, UCMJ, appeal when it found the military judge made erroneous findings of fact and erroneous conclusions of law.

Chief Judge Erdmann’s opinion for the unanimous court makes two key holdings.

First, despite the wording of the granted issue, Chief Judge Erdmann explains that in an Article 62 appeal CAAF reviews the military judge’s ruling directly, and he notes that “the CCA’s decision and analysis is not relevant to [that] review.” Slip op. at 7 n.13.

Second, considering the record and the military judge’s ruling, Chief Judge Erdmann finds no flaw in either the military judge’s findings of fact or his conclusions of law. Slip op. at 10. However, the court does not go so far as to actually agree with the military judge on the underlying question of reliability:

We do not hold that the KCPCL’s modified formula is unreliable. We only hold it was not an abuse of discretion for the military judge to find the government had not met its burden of showing the formula was reliable in this case.

Slip op. at 11 n.16.

Case Links:
ACCA opinion
Blog post: The Army CCA allows DNA evidence where “approximately 1 in 220 unrelated individuals in the general population would be a match”
• Appellant’s Brief (supplement to the petition for grant of review)
Appellee’s (Government) Brief (answer to the petition)
Blog post: Argument preview
• Oral argument audio
CAAF opinion
Blog post: Opinion analysis

Audio of yesterday’s oral arguments at CAAF is available at the following links:

United States v. Henning, No. 16-0026/AR (CAAFlog case page): Oral argument audio

United States v. Pease, No. 16-0014/NA (CAAFlog case page): Oral argument audio

CAAF will hear oral argument in the Army case of United States v. Henning, No. 16-0026/AR (CAAFlog case page), on Tuesday, January 12, 2016, at 9:30 a.m. The case involves a Government appeal of a military judge’s ruling that suppressed DNA evidence in a sexual assault case.

The DNA results included a finding that approximately 1 in 220 unrelated individuals in the general population would be a match. The military judge concluded that the results were unreliable and suppressed them. However, the Army CCA reversed after concluding that some of the judge’s findings of fact (regarding the procedure used by the laboratory) were clearly erroneous and also that his conclusions of law were erroneous. CAAF then stayed the trial proceedings and granted review of a single issue:

Whether the Army Court applied the wrong standard of review to this Article 62, UCMJ, appeal when it found the military judge made erroneous findings of fact and erroneous conclusions of law.

The Army CCA’s decision (discussed here) includes the following description of the facts of the case:

The alleged victim, SLN, reported that appellee raped her. [The appellee] denied any and all sexual contact with SLN. Genetic material was recovered from the underwear SLN wore the evening in question. The Kansas City Police Crime Laboratory (KCPCL) conducted deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) testing on that genetic material. After testing and analysis, the KCPCL reported that [the appellee] could not be excluded as a potential minor contributor to the tested sample. Furthermore, the KCPCL is of the opinion that approximately 1 in 220 unrelated individuals in the general population would be a match to the minor contributor’s profile. [The appellee] was charged with the rape of, and other sexual crimes against, SLN.

Slip op. at 1-2. Additional notable facts include that the genetic material tested was “an exceedingly small quantity,” slip op. at 5, and that “according to KCPCL, the two other males present in SLN’s home on the night in question were both excluded after comparison to the DNA profile.” Slip op. at 2 n.3.

The defense moved to suppress the DNA analysis on the basis that it “does not meet the requirements for expert testimony established by Military Rule of Evidence 702.” Slip op. at 2 (marks omitted). The military judge granted the motion, concluding in part that the formula that the laboratory used to draw conclusions about the DNA was not reliable, that the ensuing battle of the experts would create a trial-within-a-trial, and that:

9. “Using the 1 in 220 statistic, in a population as small as Weston, Missouri [the location of the alleged assault –ZDS] (1,641 in the 2010 census (citation omitted)), only 7 people could be contributors to the genetic material in Mrs. [SLN]’s underwear.”

10. Because the “Government is sure to point out that of those seven possible people, only one was in Mrs. [SLN]’s house, . . . the probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, misleading the panel members, and waste of time.”

Slip op. at 6 (quoting military judge’s ruling) (all marks other than my notation are in original). But the CCA reversed, concluding in part that “once a proper foundation is laid, not only is DNA testing sufficiently reliable and admissible, but evidence of statistical probabilities of an alleged match is admissible as well.” United States v. Henning, No. 20150410, slip op. at 11 (A. Ct. Crim. App. Sep. 3, 2015). The court also explained that “vigorous cross-examination, presentation of contrary evidence, and careful instruction on the burden of proof are the traditional and appropriate means of attacking shaky but admissible evidence.” Slip op. at 10-11.

CAAF then granted review.

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In this post I discussed the Army CCA’s decision on a Government interlocutory appeal in United States v. Henning, No. 20150410 (A. Ct. Crim. App. Sep. 3, 2015), in which a three-judge panel of that court reversed a military judge’s ruling that suppressed DNA evidence in a sexual assault case. Specifically:

The alleged victim, SLN, reported that appellee raped her. [The appellee] denied any and all sexual contact with SLN. Genetic material was recovered from the underwear SLN wore the evening in question. The Kansas City Police Crime Laboratory (KCPCL) conducted deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) testing on that genetic material. After testing and analysis, the KCPCL reported that [the appellee] could not be excluded as a potential minor contributor to the tested sample. Furthermore, the KCPCL is of the opinion that approximately 1 in 220 unrelated individuals in the general population would be a match to the minor contributor’s profile. [The appellee] was charged with the rape of, and other sexual crimes against, SLN.

Slip op. at 1-2. Additional notable facts include that the genetic material tested was “an exceedingly small quantity,” slip op. at 5, and that “according to KCPCL, the two other males present in SLN’s home on the night in question were both excluded after comparison to the DNA profile.” Slip op. at 2 n.3.

The CCA concluded that some of the judge’s findings of fact (regarding the procedure used by the laboratory) were clearly erroneous and also that his conclusions of law were erroneous.

CAAF has stayed the trial proceedings and will review the CCA’s decision:

No. 16-0026/AR. U.S. v. Antiwan M. Henning. CCA 20150410. On consideration of the petition for grant of review of the decision of the United States Army Court of Criminal Appeals, on appeal under Article 62, Uniform Code of Military Justice, 10 U.S.C. § 862 (2012), Appellant’s motion to stay the trial proceedings, and Appellee’s motion for leave to exceed the word limit, it is ordered that Appellant’s motion to stay the trial proceedings is hereby granted, pending further order of the Court, that Appellee’s motion to exceed the word limit is hereby granted, and that said petition is hereby granted on the following issue:

WHETHER THE ARMY COURT APPLIED THE WRONG STANDARD OF REVIEW TO THIS ARTICLE 62, UCMJ, APPEAL WHEN IT FOUND THE MILITARY JUDGE MADE ERRONEOUS FINDINGS OF FACT AND ERRONEOUS CONCLUSIONS OF LAW.

In accordance with Rule 19(a)(7)(A), Rules of Practice and Procedure, no further pleadings will be filed.

In a Government interlocutory appeal in United States v. Henning, No. 20150410 (A. Ct. Crim. App. Sep. 3, 2015) (link to slip op.), a three-judge panel of the Army CCA reverses a military judge’s ruling that suppressed DNA evidence in a sexual assault case. Specifically:

The alleged victim, SLN, reported that appellee raped her. [The appellee] denied any and all sexual contact with SLN. Genetic material was recovered from the underwear SLN wore the evening in question. The Kansas City Police Crime Laboratory (KCPCL) conducted deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) testing on that genetic material. After testing and analysis, the KCPCL reported that [the appellee] could not be excluded as a potential minor contributor to the tested sample. Furthermore, the KCPCL is of the opinion that approximately 1 in 220 unrelated individuals in the general population would be a match to the minor contributor’s profile. [The appellee] was charged with the rape of, and other sexual crimes against, SLN.

Slip op. at 1-2. Additional notable facts include that the genetic material tested was “an exceedingly small quantity,” slip op. at 5, and that “according to KCPCL, the two other males present in SLN’s home on the night in question were both excluded after comparison to the DNA profile.” Slip op. at 2 n.3.

The defense moved to suppress any evidence about the DNA analysis on the basis that it “does not meet the requirements for expert testimony established by Military Rule of Evidence 702.” Slip op. at 2 (marks omitted). The military judge granted the motion, concluding in part that the formula that the laboratory used to draw conclusions about the DNA was not reliable, that the ensuing battle of the experts would create a trial-within-a-trial, and that:

9. “Using the 1 in 220 statistic, in a population as small as Weston, Missouri [the location of the alleged assault –ZDS] (1,641 in the 2010 census (citation omitted)), only 7 people could be contributors to the genetic material in Mrs. [SLN]’s underwear.”

10. Because the “Government is sure to point out that of those seven possible people, only one was in Mrs. [SLN]’s house, . . . the probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, misleading the panel members, and waste of time.”

Slip op. at 6 (quoting military judge’s ruling) (all marks other than my notation are in original).

The Government appealed and the CCA reverses by concluding that some of the judge’s findings of fact (regarding the procedure used by the laboratory) were clearly erroneous and also that his conclusions of law were erroneous.

The CCA’s opinion might reach the right result, however it will likely have unintended consequences that will fuel some (unfair) criticisms of the military justice system.

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