DNA Analysis

Gill: How misuse of DNA evidence has led to miscarriages of justice

DNA analysis has revolutionised forensic science; helping to catch prolific murderers and shining a light on miscarriages of justice that have seen innocent people wrongfully convicted of serious crimes. Such is the power of DNA to identify, convict, and exonerate, that many perceive it to be infallible. Yet DNA evidence has a number of limitations and the costs of not being aware of these can be huge.

As a forensic geneticist of 35 years standing, I have been very closely involved with every stage of the development of DNA profiling since its discovery in 1985. Yet over recent years, I have become particularly concerned with standards of practice and the court statements written by some forensic scientists.

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How DNA Evidence Went From Airtight to Error-Prone

Blind faith in any technology can be dangerous -- especially when it comes to areas of forensic science such as DNA fingerprinting. For example, if police have “DNA evidence” against a suspect, most juries will assume that’s proof of guilt. But while the technology for analyzing DNA has become vastly more sensitive since it was first introduced in courts in the 1990s, crime labs are working with ever more minute traces -- sometimes just a few molecules -- and drawing inconsistent or erroneous conclusions from them. In fact, there’s good reason to believe DNA evidence has sent people to prison for crimes they didn’t commit. Read more here.

PCAST Report Final Issued

Report on Forensic Science in Criminal Courts: Ensuring Scientific Validity of Feature-Comparison Methods

On September 20, 2016, PCAST released a Report to the President on Forensic Science in Criminal Courts: Ensuring Scientific Validity of Feature-Comparison


No More 'Reasonable Degree of Scientific Certainty'

Forensic science, already under review and scrutiny from an alphabet-soup of federal agencies, is getting another reining-in from the Department of Justice.

Terms such as “reasonable scientific certainty” can no longer be used, DOJ labs have to post internal validation studies online, and forensic scientists will be expected to uphold a 16-part “Code of Professional Responsibility for the Practice of Forensic Science,” announced Loretta Lynch, the U.S. Attorney General, in a memorandum last week.

Read more on forensic magazine.com here

Broward County Crime Lab DNA Mixture Problems

In March 2015, prosecutors temporarily stopped sending evidence to what was then a state-of-the-art city forensics lab in Washington, DC, over concerns technicians had bungled cases and misstated the likelihood DNA had been left at a crime scene. Earlier this month, the crime lab for the entire city of Austin, Texas, was shut down amid concern its technicians weren't following proper procedure. Both events amounted to earthquakes in the criminal-justice world: Crime labs are responsible for handling nearly every piece of physical evidence. They need to be accurate.

Now, according to an independent forensics analyst, the very same DNA issues have struck the scandal-plagued Broward Sheriff's Office Crime Lab. The place is just now recovering from allegations a former drug analyst potentially tainted thousands of separate cases.

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What Attorneys Can Take Away from "Making a Murderer"

It's no surprise that innocent people face charges for crimes they did not commit every day in this country. No one ever said our system was perfect, but it's the best we've got. Netflix's new documentary, "Making a Murderer" should be a wake up call to Attorneys representing clients faced with serious crimes. A lot CAN and DOES go wrong, and forensic testing is no exception to this rule. This documentary clearly demonstrates the absolute NEED for attorneys to consult with qualified experts to ensure that everything was done correctly with regard to evidence in their respective cases. Attorneys can no longer trust crime labs to do the right thing. The science is moving fast. There is very little in the way of standardization and forensic oversight in the United States. 

Only you can prevent a miscarriage of justice.