United States v. Watson

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Law
  • Date Filed: 07-10-2015
  • Case #: 13-30084
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Kleinfeld for the Court; Circuit Judges O’Scannlain and Berzon
  • Full Text Opinion

DNA testing that did not exist at trial and can be used to make an identification from existing evidence and to rebut a presumption of untimeliness for motions to perform DNA testing because it is newly discovered evidence.

In 2006, Bill Watson was convicted of knowingly attempting to engage in a sexual act with a person physically unable to communicate unwillingness for events that occurred at the victim, J.M.B.’s house. DNA evidence was a major factor in Watson’s conviction, especially considering that the only eyewitness was also intoxicated and gave inconsistent statements to authorities. J.M.B.’s brother claimed that he saw Watson raping his sister, but Watson insisted that he was in the bedroom with J.M.B. only to access the bathroom. After Watson left, J.M.B.’s friends and brother helped J.M.B. get dressed and they dressed her with her mother’s underwear that was found on the bathroom floor. During the investigation, it was discovered that the underwear J.M.B. was wearing contained semen, but at the time it was too small a sample to use for identification. This evidence was presented at trial, along with J.M.B.’s brother’s testimony of questionable reliability and inconclusive medical evidence. Watson was convicted. Since Watson’s conviction, a new form of DNA testing known as “touch” DNA has become available that could potentially exonerate Watson. Watson, with the help of the Innocence Project as his counsel, filed a motion to test the existing evidence pursuant to the Innocence Protection Act. The district court denied the motion and Watson appealed. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit held that Watson’s motion was timely and rebutted the presumption of untimeliness, because the evidence that could now be acquired constituted newly discovered DNA evidence. Although the evidence to be tested was not newly discovered, the panel held that the ability to now discover the identity of the perpetrator, if any, from the evidence is newly discovered DNA evidence. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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