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United States v. Jenkins

December 15, 2005


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. (F-320-00). (Hon. Rhonda Reid Winston, Trial Judge).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Washington, Chief Judge

Argued October 25, 2005

Before WASHINGTON, Chief Judge, KRAMER, Associate Judge, and BELSON, Senior Judge.

The United States ("government") appeals from the pre-trial order denying the introduction of DNA evidence against appellee Raymond A. Jenkins. The government challenges the trial court's determination that the methodology for calculating the statistical significance of a DNA match obtained through a database search -- a "cold hit" -- has not gained general acceptance in the relevant scientific community and thus could not be introduced under Frye v. United States, 54 App. D.C. 46, 293 F. 1013 (1923). Relying on our holding in United States v. Porter, 618 A.2d 629, 640 (D.C. 1992), the trial court further concluded that because it was required to exclude evidence of the significance of a DNA match, evidence of the DNA match itself must also be excluded. This ruling effectively prevents the government from informing the jury that the DNA found at the scene of the crime matched Mr. Jenkins' DNA.

We agree with the trial court that evidence of a DNA match is made more probative when it is introduced in conjunction with statistical evidence that expresses the significance of the match as well as an explanation of the methodology used to arrive at those statistics. We disagree, however, with the trial court's determination that there is no general acceptance in the scientific community as to the methodology for calculating and expressing these statistics. In fact, the evidence in the record indicates that there is no debate in the relevant scientific community as to the methodology, mechanics, or mathematics underlying the various statistical formulas used to calculate significance, or in the results produced under the various formulas. Thus, we hold there is no lack of scientific consensus for the purposes of Frye or Porter and accordingly, we reverse.


A. The Investigation*fn1

On June 4, 1999, officers of the Metropolitan Police Department ("MPD") discovered the body of Dennis Dolinger in the basement of his home at 1516 Potomac Avenue, S.E., Washington, D.C. Mr. Dolinger had been stabbed several times in the head. Based on the condition of the crime scene, MPD concluded that Mr. Dolinger's assailant had also been injured during the fatal assault. Blood stains were found on clothing and other surfaces in the basement; traces of blood were found leading from the basement to the first and then the second floor of the house, and then outside to the front walkway and sidewalk; and bloody clothing was found in a room on the second floor. MPD also concluded that among other things, a diamond ring, a gold chain, and a wallet containing various credit cards were missing from Mr. Dolinger's house.

Less than twenty-four hours after Mr. Dolinger's murder, a man identified as Stephen Watson made several purchases using the victim's credit card. Further investigation revealed that Watson was in possession of other items taken from Mr. Dolinger's home. Pursuant to a warrant, Watson was arrested for felony murder while armed.

In continuing the investigation, MPD sent evidence samples from the crime scene to the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") for forensic analysis. The FBI also obtained blood samples from Watson, Dolinger, and other individuals ("known samples"). The FBI DNA laboratory tested the various blood samples at thirteen loci, also known as the "thirteen CODIS loci."*fn2 Based on this analysis, the FBI created a DNA profile for the samples. Although many of the samples collected at the crime scene matched Mr. Dolinger's DNA profile, none of the collected samples matched the profiles of Watson or the known individuals.*fn3 The FBI DNA laboratory also concluded that a single person, whose identity was unknown at the time, was the sole contributor of the blood in numerous evidence samples.

Seeking further assistance, on November 16, 1999, the government contacted the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services ("DCJS") requesting that DCJS run the profile of the unknown person through Virginia's DNA database of 101,905 previously profiled offenders. Using only eight of the thirteen loci profiled by the FBI,*fn4 the DCJS reported that the evidence sample was consistent with the eight-loci profile of Robert P. Garrett, a known alias of appellee Raymond Anthony Jenkins.

At that point, the MPD investigation focused solely on Mr. Jenkins. A search warrant was obtained for Mr. Jenkins' blood, which was acquired on November 23, 1999. Using the same tools and method of analysis used on the previous evidence samples, the FBI created a thirteen loci profile for Mr. Jenkins' blood. Mr. Jenkins' thirteen loci profile matched the thirteen loci profile from the evidence samples obtained from the crime scene.

B. Pre-trial DNA Litigation - The Frye Motion

In March 2001, Mr. Jenkins filed a motion in limine to exclude the government's DNA evidence against him. Of the various attacks on the government's expected use of DNA evidence, the only one of consequence in this appeal is Mr. Jenkins' argument that the FBI's method of presenting the rarity statistic alone to express the significance of a DNA match of a crime scene sample with a suspect identified through a database search (a so-called "cold hit") is not generally accepted in the scientific community and is inadmissible under Frye. To support this proposition, Mr. Jenkins provides evidence that he believes establishes ...

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