The practical consequences of tainted DNA evidence

On behalf of Law Office of Steven Haney posted in Criminal Defense on Monday, August 12, 2013

The New York Times recently published a story involving the murder of a California investor. Robbers bound and gagged him as they ransacked his home. The investor suffocated as a result of the tape used on his face to muffle his cries for help. When forensic investigators found DNA under the victim’s fingernails and placed the sample’s information into a DNA database, the individual whose DNA matched was arrested and charged with the investor’s murder.

Even though the man whose DNA matched the sample was hospitalized the night of the murder and could not have been the culprit, he spent months in jail before he was released. Even when an individual wins their case as a result of smart criminal defense or a rock-solid alibi, the fact that DNA evidence is landing people in jail for crimes they did not commit is frustrating to say the least.

Like any other kind of evidence, DNA evidence is not 100 percent reliable. As the above case illustrates, DNA present on a victim does not always match that victim’s assailant. In addition, DNA tainted by improper handling at the scene or in crime labs can lead to the wrongful conviction of a person accused of a crime he or she did not commit.

Over the past several years, a number of crime lab scandals and DNA evidentiary mistakes have made U.S. headlines. These stories are not tales of harmless incompetence. When the system blindly embraces DNA evidence as flawless proof of an individual’s guilt or innocence, injustice follows. DNA evidence can help to properly convict offenders and exonerate the innocent. But if it is not handled and analyzed properly and in context, it can also do a great deal of harm to both the system and those wrongfully caught in it.

Source: The New York Times, “High-Tech, High-Risk Forensics,” Osagie K. Obasogie, July 24, 2013