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Kansas Supreme Court Clarifies Procedures to be followed in Addressing Requests for DNA Testing

In October 2012, the Supreme Court of Kansas reversed a trial court’s denial of a petition for DNA testing by convicted murderer Robert Lackey II. In so doing, the Court clarified the procedures to be followed by a court addressing a request for such testing pursuant to K.S.A. 21-2512.

In 2002, a jury convicted Lackey of the murder and rape, 20 years earlier, of a 22-year-old college student in Salina. Lackey was convicted based on DNA evidence and sentenced to life in prison.

In 2007, Lackey filed a pro se petition for DNA testing pursuant to K.S.A. 21-2512, requesting the testing or re-testing of certain biological material. The petition was denied by both the district court and the Court of Appeals.

On appeal, the Kansas Supreme court held that K.S.A. 21-2512 “contemplates the necessity for new or different DNA testing, not the further analysis of previous test results.” While most of the biological material identified in Lackey’s petition failed to satisfy this criterion, the short hairs found on the victim’s body had never been subjected to DNA testing, and accordingly qualified for testing under the statute.

The Supreme Court further held that evidence was sufficiently “exculpatory” (to qualify for testing) if it merely tended to disprove a material fact in issue, even if it was not necessarily exonerating. Because the Legislature believed that a “fishing expedition” for DNA evidence was worth conducting in such cases, the Supreme Court concluded, before determining whether or not evidence was “exculpatory” for purposes of K.S.A. 21-2512, a district court should appoint counsel for a petitioner seeking testing and conduct an evidentiary hearing.

Accordingly, the Supreme Court remanded Lackey’s case for an evidentiary hearing (and appointment of counsel) with respect to the short hairs found on the victim’s body. See: State v. Lackey, 295 Kan. 816 (Kan. 2012).

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Related legal case

State v. Lackey