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Ohio Supreme Court: Prisoner Entitled to Results of Post-Conviction DNA Profile

by Matt Clarke

On March 6, 2018, the Supreme Court of Ohio held that the State must provide a prisoner the DNA profile created after his application for post-conviction DNA testing of crime-scene evidence was granted.

Tyrone Noling received the death penalty for the 1990 murder of an Ohio couple. In 2008, he filed an application for post-conviction DNA testing of a cigarette butt found on the driveway of the couple’s home. The court noted that the pre-trial DNA test on the cigarette butt excluded Noling as the source of the DNA and was definitive, so it denied his application.

In 2010, Noling filed a second application based on newly discovered evidence pointing to other suspects and that advances in DNA testing could provide a definitive identification of the DNA on the cigarette butt. His application was denied, and he appealed.

The Ohio Supreme Court held that a trial court must apply the statutory definition of “definitive DNA test” before dismissing a subsequent application for post-conviction DNA testing. It reversed and remanded, instructing the trial court to consider whether the newly discovered evidence regarding other suspects showed, by a preponderance of the evidence, a possibility of discovering new, previously undiscovered biological evidence from the perpetrator.

On remand, Noling filed an amended second application requesting testing of shell casing and ring boxes collected from the couple’s home as well. The court ordered the State to perform DNA testing on the cigarette butt and determine the quantity and quality of biological material on the shell casings and ring boxes. The court overruled Noling’s objection to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (“BCI”) lab as the testing authority. He sought to have Orchid Cellmark Laboratories designated as the testing authority for the shell casings and ring boxes, arguing that Orchid was better equipped for that type of testing than the BCI lab.

The BCI lab obtained a DNA profile from the cigarette butt and compared it to the profiles in the local, state, and national levels of the Combined DNA Index System (“CODIS”) database of DNA profiles complied by law enforcement.

The State provided Noling with a one-page report, stating that the DNA profiling was performed using the polymerase chain reaction at the short tandem repeat loci and listed the loci that were identified. It did not include the DNA profile, but stated that the profile was from an unknown male.

The BCI lab reported that the shell casing and ring boxes were contaminated and “scientifically unsuitable for testing” because the forensic technicians in the 1990s did not process them in a manner that would minimize contamination. The court then dismissed the amended motion.

Noling appealed, arguing that the State should have given him all of the lab documentation related to the testing of the cigarette butt, including lab notes, electropherograms, and the DNA profile. He also argued that his objections to using the BCI lab to test the shell casings and ring boxes should have been sustained and Orchid designated as the testing authority.

The Ohio Supreme Court held that Noling could not appeal the designation of a testing authority or the adequacy of its visual examination in determining that the ring boxes and shell casings were contaminated. Under R.C. 2953.81(C), Noling was entitled to “the results of the testing.” The Court interpreted that to mean the DNA profile used for comparison with other DNA profiles on CODIS. He was not entitled to electropherograms or lab notes.

The judgment of the trial court was affirmed, except with regard to providing the DNA profile, which the Court instructed the trial court to provide to Noling. See: State v. Noling, 2018-Ohio-795 (2018). 

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