Tuesday, September 11, 2018
The pertinent portion of North Carolina's postconviction DNA testing statute, NC Gen Stat § 15A-269(a), states that
(a) A defendant may make a motion before the trial court that entered the judgment of conviction against the defendant for performance of DNA testing and, if testing complies with FBI requirements and the data meets NDIS criteria, profiles obtained from the testing shall be searched and/or uploaded to CODIS if the biological evidence meets all of the following conditions:
(1) Is material to the defendant's defense.
(2) Is related to the investigation or prosecution that resulted in the judgment.
(3) Meets either of the following conditions:
a. It was not DNA tested previously.
b. It was tested previously, but the requested DNA test would provide results that are significantly more accurate and probative of the identity of the perpetrator or accomplice or have a reasonable probability of contradicting prior test results.
So, where does that leave pleading defendants?
North Carolina's statute does not explicitly reference pleading defendants. That said, on June 5, 2018, the Court of Appeals of North Carolina held in dicta in State v. Randall, No. COA17-924, 2018 WL 2626718, at *2 (N.C. App, June 5, 2018) that pleading defendants should be able to seek postconviction DNA testing.* In doing so, the court “acknowledge[d] the inherent difficulty in establishing the materiality required by [North Carolina’s postconviction statute] for a defendant who pleaded guilty.” But the court ultimately found that the test should be the same as the Strickland test: The defendant must establish that he “would not have pleaded guilty and otherwise would not have been found guilty.” According to the court, in such cases, “[t]he trial court is obligated to consider the facts surrounding a defendant’s decision to plead guilty in addition to other evidence, in the context of the entire record of the case, in order to determine whether the evidence is ‘material.’”