Friday, February 27, 2004

Hair of the Dog

A dog hair is found at the murder scene. Did it come from the defendant's dog? Time to haul out the DNA kits. According to press reports, the judge in an Illinois murder trial has ruled that expert testimony matching the DNA from crime-scene dog hair to the defendant's dog will be admissible. There has already been similar testimony about the defendant's own hair, estimating that only .007 per cent of the population would match the DNA from the human hair found at the crime scene, as the defendant's hair does. But apparently the prosecution wishes to gild the lily.

The prosecutors say evidence on dog hair DNA has been used in other cases, but we can't find them. In 2003, the Washington Court of Appeals held that it was error for a trial court to admit canine DNA evidence without a Frye hearing, albeit harmless error in the circumstances of the case. "We have examined the record, existing case law on DNA evidence, scientific literature on the canine genome, and the documents submitted at our request by the parties," the Washington court said. "Based on this information, we are not convinced that forensic canine DNA identification is a theory that has received general acceptance in the scientific community, or that reliable techniques or experiments exist to identify individual canines for forensic purposes." See State v. Leuluaialii, 118 Wn. App. 780, 77 P.3d 1192 (2003).
Fed. R. Evid. 702: If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise, if (1) the testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data, (2) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods, and (3) the witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case.