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Canine DNA Admitted In California Murder Case

Canine DNA Admitted In Criminal Cases Across the U.S.

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People of California v. Ige

Canine DNA was sucessfully admitted in court in People v. Ige, 2010 WL 3518148 (Cal. App. 4 Dist.).  The trial court ruled that canine DNA evidence extracted from dog hairs was admissable because it had been generally accepted in the scientific community, and it was not a new or novel procedure. The trial court found that the canine DNA evidence met the "Frye/Kelly" test and was reliable and admissible. The appellate court affirmed the trial court's ruling.

The canine DNA issue arose when dogs hairs taken from a burnt floor mat at the crime scene, a fire pit, were found to match the dogs Sadie, Buck and Sherlock, three dogs that lived in the same house as Ige.  This canine DNA evidence thus put Ige at the scene, despite his denials. There was additional evidence that Ige was involved in the murder, including DNA from cigarettes, and DNA blood stains from the victim in Ige's car. 

The case is signficant on many levels.  First, it involved a first degree murder conviction. Second, canine DNA testing was found to meet the "Frye/Kelly" test.  Frey v. US, 293 F. 1013 and People v. Kelly, 17 Cal.3d 24 are two cases that essentially require scientific evidence to be generally accepted by the scientific community before it can be admitted into evidence. The court hears the evidence without a jury present, and makes a determination as to whether the scientific evidence proposed meets this standard.  If it does not, the jury does not hear the evidence at all.  If it does, the scientific evidence is admitted and subject to cross examination.

In Ige, Joy Halverson testified as an the canine DNA expert for the prosecution. She indicated that she has testifed as a canine forensic expert in ten trials across the country, five of which involved mitochondrial mtDNA. She had been involved in 30-40 criminal investigations, and had also been involved in dna testing in noncriminal cases primarily for parentage testing.  She testified that the hairs taken from the burnt floor mat at the scene matched the three dogs the lived in the house where Ige lived.

The scientific explanations involving the DNA evidence are quite complex.  If you are interested in such technical details, read the case at the links above. Other canine DNA cases are cited below:

Canine DNA Admitted in Other Criminal Cases in the U.S.

State v. Westerfield (Unpublsihed 2003) - There is no reported case, but this was the first trial in the U.S. to admit canine DNA. The defendant was charged with the kidnapping and murder of eight-year-old Danielle Van Dam. A mitochondrial haplotype of dog hairs found in the suspect's motor home, on a quilt, and in the lint-trap of his dryer matched that of the Van Dam's dog. David Westerfield was convicted. 

Huck v. Florida, 881 So.2d 1137 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2004) - the court ruled in a murder case that the admission of mtDNA testing of canine hairs presented no specific appealable issue.

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Treiber, 874 A.2d 26 (Pa. 2005) - the court held there were no admissibility issues when the court allowed the DNA from canine hair to be used against the defendant in the arson/murder of his daughter. The hair was found on an envelope containing a threatening note and matched one of defendant's dog.

People v. Sullivan, 223 Ill. 2d 187, 860 N.E.2d 178 (2006) - The trial court admitted canine mtDNA.  The defendant appealed on the basis that the canine DNA was not sceintifically sound. The court found that the evidence was legally sufficient to support the accused's conviction. The dispute between the experts was a factual question to be resolved by the jury.

Coleman v. State, 2008 Haw.App.Lexis 581 (Haw.Ct.App. Oct 3 2008) - The trial judge's admission of canine mtDNA evidence was not an abuse of discretion, 193 P.3d 456 (Haw. App.2008).

Canine DNA Widely Used In Criminal Investigations Across The U.S.

Other courts have admitted canine DNA evidence. Two commentators reported that canine DNA evidence has "contributed to over 20 criminal investigations since 1966. Evidence from these investigations has been admitted in nine criminal trials in California, Florida, Illinios, Oklahoma, Washington, Iowa, Pennsylvania and Great Britain." Halverson & Basten, A PCR Multiplex and Database for Forensic DNA Identification of Dogs, 50 J. Forensic Sci. 352 (2005).

Canine DNA Used In Civil Cases In The U.S.

In Augillard v. Madura, 257 SW3rd 494 (Tex. App. Austin 2008), canine DNA was used to prove that a cocker spaniel in Defendant's possession was the same dog Plaintiff had lost during hurricane Katrina. The trial court ruled against the plaintiff, and on appeal, this ruling was reversed. The court held that the canine DNA should have been considered "conclusive." 
 

Likewise, canine DNA was used to prove that a particular dog was not the cause of a traffic accident. 112 Int'l J. Legal Med. 315 (1999).


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