Behind Bars Despite DNA Evidence

In this post, we will dig deeper into one of GIP’s long-time active cases and explain how a procedural error can keep someone behind bars despite evidence of innocence.

For Sonny Bharadia, that evidence of innocence comes in the form of DNA from inside a pair of gloves. The DNA proves that Sonny Bharadia was not the perpetrator of the crime he is currently spending life in prison for.

But no jury has ever seen this evidence, and as it currently stands, they never will.

In 2003, when Sonny was convicted, standard DNA technology in crime labs was not nearly as advanced as it is today. In the earlier days of DNA analysis, bodily fluid such as blood, semen, or saliva was needed to make an identification. The general rule was, “if you can see it, you can test it”. 

More recently, however, with advancements in research and technology, a new type of DNA analysis known as “touch DNA” has opened up many more possibilities for the identification of perpetrators of crimes.

What is “Touch DNA”?

Touch DNA is DNA contained in skin cells that are left behind when an object is worn, touched, or handled.

In Sonny’s case, forensic analysts tested the inside of the gloves identified by the victim as being worn by her attacker for skin cells. From there, analysts were able to obtain a complete DNA profile left behind by the attacker. When compared to Sonny’s DNA, it was NOT a match. But it did match someone else related to the case– Sterling Flint, a man who testified against Sonny in exchange for not being listed as a sex offender.

Why Wasn’t this Evidence Presented at Trial?

Touch DNA testing required cutting-edge technology that was not commonly known or used (even in the scientific community) in the early 2000s when Sonny originally went to trial; therefore, the touch DNA was not analyzed until after Sonny was convicted.

During his appeal, Sonny’s new attorney did admit the new DNA evidence; however, he made the claim that trial counsel was ineffective for not getting this testing done. The judge dismissed the claim, saying Sonny’s legal team knew about the gloves and could have tested them prior to trial.

But there’s a problem with that ruling. While it is true that everyone knew about the gloves, the technology needed to test them was not widely known about or available at the time of Sonny’s first trial. During appellate proceedings, Sonny’s attorney should have educated the court that the DNA could not have been presented at the time of trial.

Despite DNA evidence conclusively proving his innocence, Sonny remains in prison today because of this simple error in presenting the exculpatory DNA evidence. 

What’s Next for Sonny?

GIP is committed to helping Sonny prove his innocence. On June 20th, he will have a hearing on his habeas corpus petition. Stay tuned for more updates on Sonny’s case.

In the meantime, you can read more about Sonny’s Case on our active cases page.

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