Court Watch

Appeals Court Rules Sperm DNA Relevant

Reverses lower court decision disallowing DNA not from defendant found on bed in sexual assault case.

By , Wisconsin Justice Initiative - Apr 3rd, 2019 03:24 pm
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Gavel.

Gavel.

A judge erred when he said that sperm DNA evidence helpful to the defendant in a sexual assault case was inadmissible under the state’s rape shield law, the State Court of Appeals has ruled.

The shield law disallows evidence of a sexual assault victim’s sexual history because of its prejudicial effect.

“In general, ‘all relevant evidence is admissible,’” the panel said, quoting state law.  The case now heads back to Sauk County Circuit Court.

The unsigned decision by the District IV Court of Appeals panel reversed a ruling by Circuit Judge Todd J. Hepler, who barred sperm DNA evidence that excluded defendant Juan L. Walker as the source of sperm found on the victim’s bed sheet.

Hepler said the sperm was evidence of “prior sexual conduct” of the victim, Katherine, or someone else, and thus was inadmissible under the rape shield law.

Defendant Walker also was excluded as the source of other, non-sperm DNA evidence, but Hepler also ruled that evidence inadmissible.

Hepler said the absence of Walker’s DNA on the sheet “does not necessarily equate to the absence of Mr. Walker at the scene. Simply because there is no DNA there on that particular bed sheet does not necessarily mean that Mr. Walker was not there. The presence of another’s DNA doesn’t equate to the absence of another’s DNA either.”

The victim, identified only as Katherine, had been drinking before the assault, according to the appeal panel. Two friends helped her after she vomited outside a Lake Delton restaurant. Walker, whom none of the three had met before, stopped, offered to help, and eventually gave them a ride to Katherine’s home, according  to the appeals panel, which included Appeals Judges Paul Lundsten, Brian Blanchard, and Michael R. Fitzpatrick.

One of Katherine’s friends helped the fully dressed woman to bed. Walker and the two friends then left the residence.

Later, Katherine did not remember leaving the restaurant or how she got home, the appeals court wrote. The next thing she recalled was waking up about 3 a.m. with a man on top of her, making sexual contact. She told the man to stop and pushed him away. He got off of her.

Katherine eventually identified Walker in a photo array, and he was charged with second-degree sexual assault and burglary of Katherine’s home.

The state conducted the bed sheet DNA tests, which showed that Walker was not a source of the evidence.

Walker contends that he never returned to Katherine’s home and that she misidentified her assailant.

“The question then becomes whether the bed sheet DNA evidence has ‘any tendency to make it more or less probable  that Walker sexually assaulted Katherine,” the appeals panel said.

The test results, along with Katherine’s denial of previous consensual sexual activity on the sheet means the evidence “has a tendency to make more probable that another male” was responsible for the crime, the appeals panel said.

The evidence is relevant to Walker’s defense and so is admissible, the court said.

The panel also rejected Hepler’s exclusion of non-sperm DNA evidence.

The lack of Walker’s DNA on the sheet does not necessarily rule him out as the perpetrator, the court wrote.

“But, the lack of Walker’s DNA on the bed sheet, and the presence of DNA from at least one other male on the bed sheet, do not lead to the conclusion that the bed sheet DNA evidence is inadmissible,” the panel said. “We discern no basis for excluding this evidence based on that reasoning, and the State asserts no basis for this ruling that is supported by the rules of evidence.

Walker was represented on appeal by Assistant State Public Defender Andrew Hinkel. The state was represented by Assistant Attorney General Gregory M. Weber

Gretchen Schuldt writes a blog for Wisconsin Justice Initiative, whose mission is “To improve the quality of justice in Wisconsin by educating the public about legal issues and encouraging civic engagement in and debate about the judicial system and its operation.

Categories: Court Watch, Crime

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