Genetic testing is what finally brought the case of Michelle Marie Martinko in court. Jerry Lynn Burns (66) was found guilty of Michelle’s 1979 murder based on genetic testing of DNA. He is awaiting his sentencing hearing. It will be the mandatory life sentence.
Spies argues in a motion that he wants a new trial for his client. He is preserving all his objections raised during trial in this motion. Of course, the prosecution will resist the defense’s motion. No firm deadlines have been set yet.
I want to highlight the following:
- proportionality: Spies argues that the weight of the evidence used to find Burns guilty of first degree murder is questionable. “The evidence and inferences arising from the evidence, even viewed in the light most favorable to the prosecution, were insufficient to warrant a rational trier of fact finding the Defendant guilty of murder in the first degree.” In other words, finding Burns’ DNA alone is not enough for a first degree verdict implying that the DNA should have bolstered the other evidence in the case and Spies here indicates, there wasn’t enough evidence.
- violation of the privilege against self-incrimination: Spies says that statements Burns made at the time of his arrest should not have been used in court.
- violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment: “the court erred in rejecting the Defendant’s claim that the searches and seizures leading to the discovery of his DNA profile and that of his family violated his rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, as guaranteed by Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution of the State of Iowa.”
The use of genetic testing is not without controversy. You can read here how they got Burns’ DNA. The gathering of discarded materials for DNA testing by the authorities has been debated before. On the one hand, of course we want to solve crimes. However, is this a form of privacy violation? In case of picking up discarded materials, the legal answer is no. The abandonment doctrine means there is no expectation of privacy in abandoned materials.
But can the authorities use just any ancestry database that they want? How well is your privacy protected against such searches? Do you automatically give up a certain part of privacy when you enter your DNA in an ancestry database? And, can it backfire?
What Spies might be attempting to do is to force the courts to take a position on genetic testing, in other words can it withstand the Daubert standard, i.e. prove that the method is in general accepted by the scientific community. I wrote about that here.
When you enter your DNA in a database you expose your whole bloodline to a potential police investigation. I have seen people disagree with this. “You do not expose a whole family but only the ones with a DNA match.” But this is wrong.
Unless a criminal’s DNA is already in those commercial databases any result will always be a partial match. And that exposes many people related to the criminal to police investigations based on just a partial match.
Absent federal regulations, it may be up to the courts to strike a fair balance.
I will post more about the appeals procedure as it progresses.