Wednesday, September 19, 2007

DNA Gold Standard Beats Hearsay

State v. Wells, no. 05-1798 (Iowa Sept. 7, 2007)

Wells was convicted of two counts of sexual abuse. He had been having a sexual relationship with a 14 year old girl whose mother took her to the hospital where a rape kit was taken. At that time she admitted the relationship to a sexual assault nurse examiner which confirmed the abuse. Three years later, Wells' DNA samples were taken from Wells for unknown reasons, a comparison was made and he was charged.

At trial, over Wells' strenuous objection, the evidence of the sexual assault nurse examiner concerning what the victim told her was admitted. Wells appealed.

The Supreme Court found that admission of hearsay in violation of the confrontation clause of the Sixth Amendment does not mandate reversal if the state establishes that the error was harmless beyond reasonable doubt. The correct inquiry is whether the guilty verdict actually rendered was surely unattributable to the error, because the DNA evidence was overwhelming.

In this case, the DNA evidence trumped the erroneous admission of hearsay by a country mile.


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