Federal habeas proceeding in Holland v. Lackner determines that the failure of DNA analysts to testify in a rape case was harmless error under the Confrontation Clause

In 2007, petitioner Holland voluntarily provided a DNA sample to law enforcement officials to help them investigate a crime in which petitioner’s brother was a suspect. Holland was thereby connected to a 2001 sexual assault cold case. The victim was an elderly woman who had since passed away. She had reported the forced oral sex to her daughter, who called 911. The victim’s underwear was found to have sperm on it and was taken into evidence. When confronted with the DNA match in 2007, Holland claimed that the encounter was consensual.

While two DNA experts testified at trial, neither of the experts had actually conducted the analysis in the particular case. The defendant objected to their testimony under the Confrontation Clause, but his objection was overruled and the petitioner was convicted in May 2009.

“On June 25, 2009, the Supreme Court issued Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, 557 U.S. 305 (2009). The Supreme Court found that affidavits reporting results of forensic analysis were testimonial under Crawford because they were made under circumstances where an objective witness would reasonably believe they would be used at trial. Id. at 310-11. In Bullcoming v. New Mexico, 131 S. Ct. 2705 (2011), the Supreme Court held that “[t]he accused’s right is to be confronted with the analyst who made the certification, unless that analyst is unavailable at trial, and the accused had an opportunity, pretrial, to cross-examine that particular scientist.” Id. at 2710.”
As a result of these rulings, petitioner filed a writ of habeas corpus in federal court challenging his conviction under the Confrontation Clause. While the court determined that there was error in his case, because Holland had admitted to a sexual encounter with the victim and the identity of the suspect was not in question, the error was harmless and his conviction was upheld.
Holland v. Lackner, 2015 WL 5935372 (2015).

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