Admissibility of a DNA Expert Testimony in California

In People v. Geier (2007) 41 Cal.4th 555, the California Supreme Court addressed the admissibility of the testimony of a DNA expert who testified at trial to the results of a DNA analysis conducted by another expert. (Id. at pp. 594-596, 607.) In Geier, the issue as framed by the court was whether the admission of scientific evidence, such as laboratory reports, constituted a testimonial statement that is inadmissible unless the person who prepared the report testifies, or Crawford's conditions--unavailability and cross-examination--are met. The Geier court held that such reports in the conditions described in that decision may be nontestimonial, and thus admissible, even when the expert conducting the analysis fails to testify. (Geier, supra, at p. 607.) The Geier court reasoned that where the scientific report records observations regarding the receipts of samples, the preparation of the samples for analysis, and the results of the analysis as it is actually being performed, the observations in the report are nothing more than a contemporaneous recordation of observable events and are nontestimonial. (Geier, supra, 41 Cal.4th at pp. 605-606.) The court acknowledged that one expert cannot testify to another expert's opinion; such testimony is hearsay. (Id. at p. 608, fn. 13, citing People v. Campos (1995) 32 Cal.App.4th 304, 308.) Nevertheless, a testifying expert can give his or her opinion as to the results of an analysis where he does so by forming his own independent opinion based on the information contained in the nontestifying expert's report. (Geier, supra, at p. 608, fn. 13.) The court in Geier explained why such reports were admissible. It said that the records of a laboratory analysis are generally made during routine, nonadversarial processes meant to ensure an accurate analysis. The notes and report are generated pursuant to standardized scientific protocols developed by the laboratory in question. These analyses are conducted as part of the expert's employment, not in order to incriminate a criminal defendant. The notes, forms, and reports of the analyzing expert are not themselves accusatory, as the results of such tests may turn out to be exonerating, as well as incriminating. The accusatory opinions adduced at trial derive not from the nontestifying expert's laboratory notes and report, but from a testifying expert, who may be cross-examined. By following a laboratory's protocols of noting the process of analysis, the expert does not "bear witness" against defendant. A laboratory's protocol, and the resulting raw data acquired is not accusatory; rather, such analyses are neutral. (Geier, supra, 41 Cal.4th at p. 607.)