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156458 - People v James David Urban

The People of the State of Michigan,


Brent Morton





(Appeal from Ct of Appeals)



(Eaton – Cunningham, J.)


James David Urban,


Peter Van Hoek





Defendant was charged with various felonies for allegedly restraining his girlfriend inside his house for hours and assaulting her. At trial, a forensic scientist testified that DNA profiles on certain items of evidence matched defendant’s DNA. The witness was not asked to provide any empirical data to define the statistical parameters of a DNA match. However, the witness’ written report was admitted into evidence, and it contained the testing methodology used, as well as her conclusions and interpretations of the data. The report contained the following qualifier: “In the absence of identical twins or close relatives, it can be concluded to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty that the DNA profile of the major donor to item [number and description] and from [number and description corresponding to either defendant or the victim] is from the same individual.” The defense did not object to the scientist’s testimony or report. A jury acquitted defendant of some charges, but convicted him of unlawful imprisonment, felonious assault, and domestic violence. On appeal, he argued that the scientist’s DNA testimony violated the principles of People v Coy, 243 Mich App 283, 294 (2000), which held that evidence of a potential match between a subject’s DNA sample and DNA found on evidence was “inadmissible absent some accompanying interpretive evidence regarding the likelihood of the potential match.” That is, “some qualitative or quantitative interpretation must accompany evidence of [a] potential [DNA] match.” Id. at 302. In this case, the Court of Appeals affirmed in a published opinion. The Supreme Court has ordered oral argument on defendant’s application for leave to appeal to address whether “reasonable degree of scientific certainty” can satisfy Coy’s requirement of a valid qualitative interpretation that can justify admission of forensic evidence.​