DNA Analysis: Benefits and Pitfalls
One of the most profound injustices within the realm of criminal justice occurs
when an individual is wrongly convicted for a crime, he had no involvement in.
A wrongful conviction can have unfathomable consequences for those who have been
exonerated, the original victims of the crimes, and the families. In addition,
they can also have long-term negative effects on witnesses, investigators,
attorneys, judges, and other criminal justice professionals involved in wrongful
convictions. So, it is up to us to understand the root causes of these tragic
events to help ensure that injustice is not repeated.
According to data provided by the Innocence Project, a nationally recognized
advocacy and public policy organization focused on securing the release of
innocent individuals, as of July 31, 2016, DNA analysis has led to the
exoneration of 342 people.
This organization has identified six key factors that
have contributed to wrongful convictions:
- Wrong identification by eyewitnesses
- False admissions or confessions
- Official misconduct
- Inadequate defense
- Informants (e.g., prison gold diggers)
- Unverified or incorrect forensic science
Following an examination of erroneous convictions and close calls, Dr. Jon Gould
and his team conducted a thorough analysis of these cases employing bivariate
and logistic regression methodologies. They subsequently identified 10
"factors," distinct from direct causes, which contribute to the wrongful
conviction of an innocent defendant rather than their exoneration or acquittal:
- The younger defendant
- Criminal history
- Weak prosecution case
- The prosecution withheld evidence
- Lying by a non-eyewitness
- Inadvertent misidentification by a witness
- Misinterpretation of forensic evidence in court
- Weak defense
- The defendant offered a family witness
- States with a "repressive" culture
Because some innocent prisoners were awaiting execution, Illinois Governor
George Ryan declared a moratorium in his state in 2000, then commuted the
sentences of all 156 prisoners on death row to life imprisonment in 2003. "Our
capital system is haunted by the demon of error," he said. By 2007, almost 200
prisoners in the United States had been released based on DNA results.
In a 1984 Canadian case, large samples of hair and fibres helped convict Guy
Paul Morin of the murder of nine-year-old Christine Jessop in Queens Ville,
Ontario. The jury convicted Morin after being told that hair found on the victim
could have come from Morin, fibres collected from her clothing and bag could
have come from his home and car, and hair discovered in Morin's car could have
come from the victim. However, DNA tests exonerated him in 1995 and a special
inquiry said in its 1,400-page report that jurors had been 'blinded by bad
In a court case that began in 2007 in the US, Steven Avery appeared likely to be
the first inmate convicted of murder by DNA evidence, who had previously been
exonerated by DNA from another conviction. He had been behind bars for 17 years
of a 35-year sentence for sexually assaulting and beating a woman in Manitowoc,
Wisconsin. After DNA tests arrived, the hair at the crime scene matched to
another man in prison. Avery was acquitted in 2003, and two years later the
Wisconsin Legislature passed the Avery Law to prevent wrongful convictions.
On the same day, October 31, Teresa Halbach went missing. Her remains were
discovered and DNA bloodstains in her vehicle matched Avery's blood.
In addition to convicting suspects, DNA science has also exposed numerous
miscarriages of justice and allowed many innocent men and women to go free.
The true story of prisoners exonerated by DNA evidence was the subject of the
movie �After Innocence�, which won a Special Jury Prize at the 2005 Sundance
Film Festival. The documentary followed seven men and their emotional journeys
back into society. It also featured Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, founders of
the Innocent Project, which helped exonerate prisoners through DNA testing. The
film was described by �Variety� as having "remarkable stories that highlight
injustice, courage and perseverance".
The Angolan prison in the US is one of the largest in the world, with more than
5,000 inmates and two death row units.
In 2007, an American exonerated by a DNA test was awarded $3.9 million in
Louisville, Kentucky. William Gregory, 59, had already collected $700,000 from
the state to settle his claims against a state coroner who testified against
him. Gregory was convicted in 1993 of raping one woman and attempting to rape
another. He spent seven years behind bars before being released in 2000 after
DNA tests on hair found at the scene proved his innocence.
DNA is science. You can't blame DNA. You can only blame the people who mis-used
it. Evidence of misconduct, including malpractice, lying, and tampering with
official records, was found against some forensic analysts who provided false
and fabricated DNA analysis reports to the courts.
- Crime Investigation, The Ultimate Guide to Forensic science, Parragon
Written By: Md. Imran Wahab
, IPS, IGP, Provisioning, West Bengal
Email: [email protected]
, Ph no: 9836576565