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Commonwealth v. Baldwin

Court of Appeals of Kentucky

January 5, 2018

COMMONWEALTH OF KENTUCKY APPELLANT
v.
ROBERT L. BALDWIN APPELLEE

         APPEAL FROM TRIMBLE CIRCUIT COURT HONORABLE KAREN A. CONRAD, JUDGE ACTION NO. 14-CR-00014

          BRIEF FOR APPELLANT: Andy Beshear, Attorney General of Kentucky, Courtney Tigue Baxter, Lagrange, Kentucky

          ORAL ARGUMENT FOR APPELLANT: Courtney Tigue Baxter, Lagrange, Kentucky, Joshua Elliott Clubb, Lagrange, Kentucky

          BRIEF FOR APPELLEE: Kathleen K. Schmidt, Department of Public Advocacy, Erin Hoffman Yang, Frankfort, Kentucky.

          ORAL ARGUMENT FOR APPELLEES: Erin Hoffman Yang, Frankfort, Kentucky Elizabeth Curtin, Lagrange, Kentucky Melanie L. Lowe, Frankfort, Kentucky

          BEFORE: COMBS, D. LAMBERT, AND THOMPSON, JUDGES.

          OPINION VACATING AND REMANDING

          LAMBERT, D., JUDGE

         The Commonwealth of Kentucky brings this appeal from an interlocutory order excluding expert testimony regarding DNA[1] evidence. The Commonwealth offered the evidence during Robert L. Baldwin's murder trial. After reviewing the record and observing that the Trimble Circuit Court did not conduct a Daubert[2] hearing regarding the analytical technology used to further test blood from the crime scene, we vacate the order and remand.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In the early morning of November 27, 2013, Baldwin called the police to report that he had discovered Angela Long's body. Baldwin had been with Long the night before in her trailer. A homicide investigation later ensued.

         Among the evidence collected at the crime scene was a blood-soaked claw hammer. A forensic analysis of the hammer revealed that it contained DNA from two individuals, a major and a minor contributor. Analysts identified Angela as the major DNA contributor. They could not, however, conclusively determine whether Baldwin was the minor DNA contributor. Regardless, Baldwin was indicted for Angela's murder in early January 2014.

         Two years later, in February 2016, the Commonwealth, Baldwin's counsel, and the Kentucky State Police Crime Lab shared a conference call. During that conference call, it was revealed that the results from the prior DNA test could be re-analyzed to determine whether Baldwin was the minor DNA contributor. The Crime Lab explained that several other states had employed a probabilistic software program called TrueAllele for that very purpose. The Crime Lab eventually ran a TrueAllele test, and according to the Commonwealth, the results identified Baldwin as the minor DNA contributor.

         With the TrueAllele results now available, Baldwin petitioned the circuit court for their exclusion. In the alternative, Baldwin also requested that Cybergenetics, the developer of the TrueAllele software, be forced to disclose the source code for its computer program. The failure to disclose the source code, Baldwin argued, would violate his Sixth Amendment right to confront the witnesses against him.

         During a hearing on the motion to exclude, which occurred on April 28, 2016, the Commonwealth highlighted the probative value of DNA evidence linking Baldwin to a potential murder weapon. The Commonwealth also addressed Baldwin's constitutional concerns by countering that TrueAllele was demonstrably reliable and that experts interpreting the results, rather than the computer program itself, would be testifying at trial. The Commonwealth presented an affidavit from Dr. Mark Perlin, TrueAllele's developer, which explained how those skilled in the art of forensic data analysis had tested TrueAllele and approved of its use in a number of peer-reviewed articles. The Commonwealth also bolstered Dr. Perlin's affidavit with documentation showing that several state and federal courts had admitted TrueAllele results into evidence, despite a Daubert or Frye[3] challenge. In ...


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