EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Saturday, January 1, 2011

By Way Of Limitation: Supreme Court Of Arizona Addresses Inadequate Limiting Instructions Under Rule 105

Like its federal counterpart, Arizona Rule of Evidence 105 provides that

When evidence which is admissible as to one party or for one purpose but not admissible as to another party or for another purpose is admitted, the court, upon request, shall restrict the evidence to its proper scope and instruct the jury accordingly.

And, as the recent opinion of the Supreme Court of Arizona in State v. Gomez, 2010 WL 5173627 (Ariz. 2010), makes clear, the submission of an inadequate instruction does not waive the defendant's right to a limiting instruction in a case covered by Rule 105.


In Gomez

Joseph Wesley Gomez was arrested and charged with crimes related to a home invasion. Police collected items from the crime scene and submitted them, along with a blood sample taken from Gomez, to a laboratory. The laboratory analyzed DNA from the items and compared the results with the DNA from the blood sample.

In performing DNA testing and analysis, the laboratory used an "assembly line" method that involved seven steps. During the first six steps of the process, technicians isolate and amplify the DNA and generate profiles. The technicians do not interpret data or draw conclusions during these first six steps, in which machines are used for every step except the initial screening of submitted items for DNA. Various technicians involved in the laboratory processes did not testify at Gomez's trial.


The State instead called a single witness about the DNA testing. That witness, a senior forensic analyst and supervisor at the laboratory, testified in detail about the laboratory's operating procedures, standards, and safeguards. Although the analyst had not witnessed all of the steps in the process, she had checked the technicians' records for any deviations from the laboratory's protocols. The analyst had performed the initial evidence screening and DNA extraction on most of the items, and she testified about the chain of custody for all items. For each sample, the analyst personally performed the final step in the process, interpretation and comparison. This step required her to compare the DNA profiles generated in the laboratory, and it was the only step involving human analysis.
The analyst testified that several profiles derived from evidence at the crime scene "matched" the profile obtained from Gomez's blood sample. The data from the testing process were not introduced into evidence as exhibits.

Now, if this data were introduced, it could have violated Gomez's rights under the Confrontation Clause pursuant to the Supreme Court's opinion in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts. But, the prosecution instead used the new technique of merely having the analyst use this data as the basis for her opinion under Rule 703, thus circumventing the Confrontation Clause.

After the prosecution used this technique, however, Gomez requested a jury instruction pursuant to Arizona Rule of Evidence 105 that "[t]he work of non-testifying witnesses is admitted only to allow the consideration of the reasons for the expert's opinion." The trial court rejected this instruction, and the Court of Appeals of Arizona agreed, finding that the instruction was legally flawed.

The Supreme Court of Arizona disagreed with the Court of Appeals that the legally flawed nature of the instruction meant that the court did not have to give some limiting instruction. Instead, according to the court, if evidence is admissible for one purpose but inadmissible for another and the defendant asks for a legally flawed limiting instruction, the trial court should correct it and issue the correct limiting instruction. The problem for Gomez, though, was that the data was not in fact admitted, meaning that Arizona Rule of Evidence 105 was not triggered and that no limiting instruction was warranted.



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