Last week, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts affirmed a first-degree murder conviction. The ruling was confirmed in spite of a recent finding that, during the original trial Superior Court Judge David A. Lowy made an error in regards to DNA.
In the trial, the Superior Court Judge made an error when he failed to strike a prosecution witness's nonresponsive answer, which was given in response to a question about the meaning of "inconclusive" DNA test results.
During the appeal, Defendant Christian Almonte argued that a violation of due process occurred because a DNA analyst for the Commonwealth testified about the results of DNA testing by saying that the results "could king of go either way as far as [the victim's DNA] being there. Although the Supreme Court agreed that this comment could be seen as confusing and should have been stricken, they did not think that allowing the comment to stay on the record had created a substantial likelihood that justice would be miscarried. In addition, the SJC felt that the analyst's testimony was cumulative, and consisted of other evidence given to the jury that did indicate the presence of the victim's DNA on the defendants sock as well as the hood of his jacket.
The SJC also found it improper that during the closing arguments the prosecutor told the jury that the victim was the only tested person who couldn't be excluded when the blood on the defendant's hands went through DNA testing. In explaining this finding, the SJC noted that one may not introduce as evidence the fact that a particular person was not excluded as a potential contributor unless there is statistical evidence which explains why it the likelihood that the other individuals in the given population also couldn't be excluded. This type of evidence was not introduced.
However, the SJC still did not feel that this remark, to which the defendant's counsel did not object, created a substantial likelihood that justice was miscarried. This is because the remark was only made once during a comprehensive closing argument, and the jury was instructed by the Judge that closing arguments are not evidence, and that they must decide the case based solely on the evidence. Therefore, the evidence controlled the collective memory of the jurors. In addition, there was very strong evidence to indicate that the defendant had killed the victim, as well as proper evidence linking the victim to DNA samples from the defendant's sock and jacket hood, making the prosecutor's statement cumulative.
Commonwealth v. Almonte
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