Newly discovered DNA evidence warranted new trial in criminal conviction: BEDINGFIELD V. COM. (SC 8/21/2008)

LACY BEDINGFIELD v. COMMONWEALTH
CRIMINAL: New DNA evidence warranted new trial and constituted "good cause" under CR
2007-SC-000128-DG.pdf
PUBLISHED: REVERSING
OPINION BY SCOTT; VENTERS NOT SITTING
FRANKLIN COUNTY
DATE RENDERED: 8/21/2008;  9/17/2008

In this discretinary review, the SC noted the underlying judgment upon which Appellant’s motion rests, concerns his 1996 conviction of rape in the first degree and of being a persistent felony offender. As a result of his conviction, Appellant was sentenced to twenty-five (25) years imprisonment. Appellant appealed his conviction to this Court as a matter of right, and in an unpublished memorandum opinion of the Court rendered on September 4, 1997, the SC  affirmed the trial court’s conviction.

During the pendency of this matter of right appeal, Appellant filed an RCr 11.42 motion asserting ineffective assistance of counsel on grounds that counsel did not adequately pursue DNA testing. Thereafter, this motion was denied by the trial court and the denial was subsequently affirmed by the Court of Appeals.

Appellant now claims that the results of the DNA testing performed on the forensic evidence definitively exclude him as the source of the semen recovered from the alleged victim and, therefore, give rise to sufficient justification for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence.

Appellant was charged and convicted of first-degree rape and of being a persistent felony offender. Now, Appellant introduces postconviction DNA evidence which conclusively excludes him as the source of the semen found in the rape kit. Upon a motion for a new trial, the trial court held that this evidence would not likely change the outcome of the trial with a reasonable certainty. The Court of Appeals affirmed this decision and the SC granted discretionary review.

Regarding an issue of apparent first impression, SC held the defendant was entitled to a new trial based on newly discovered DNA evidence that excluded him as source of semen collected from victim and victim’s clothing.  The SC noted that it has recognized the expansive advances in technology which have occurred over the course of the past decade concerning DNA testing technology and conceded technological advances in the field now permit testing of minute sample sizes which were, heretofore, inconceivable even as recently as a few years ago.

Here, it should not be overlooked that the DNA technology which gave rise to this newly discovered evidence did not exist in the time frame when it could have been timely brought under CR 60.02(b). Despite the disconnect between the permissive time frame of RCr 10.06(1) and the more rigid time frame under CR 60.02, Appellant is permitted to make a_motion for a new trial because he proceeded under both RCr 10.06(1) and CR 60.02(f) .

Therefore, as Appellant has demonstrated good cause, the one year limitation is not applicable here.

For clarity’s sake, it was emphasized by the Supreme Court that the presence of sperm which DNA testing proves did not belong to Appellant does not exonerate him; however, the presence of this new evidence does cast a long shadow and assuredly merits consideration in the form a new trial.   It cannot be overlooked that in Appellant’s initial trial, all other arguments were enhanced and corroborated by the supposition that the sperm found belonged to Appellant. Indeed, this theme was central to the Commonwealth’s prosecution .

Because the technology was not available for Appellant to refute that claim, Appellant was left to rely on his word against that of the Commonwealth . This new evidence is substantial, if not pivotal, and it is precisely the type of evidence that is envisioned by the rule and that may change the result if a new trial were granted.

Briefs:

Appellant’s Brief

Appellee’s Brief

Appellant’s Reply Brief

COA DECISION:  2005CA000971

Digested by Michael Stevens

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