Is DNA Evidence 100% Reliable in Court for Conviction?
There are many real-life cases like the Narborough Double murder case that assure us that the DNA evidence used in the court of law for the purpose of justice. Many movies and TV shows also corroborate the use of DNA evidence, fingerprints, hair samples, bite marks, etc., in convicting a criminal.
Though it is true that if Forensic evidence is handled and tested by experts, they are reliable. However, in many cases, the mishandling of evidence by the police or the experts has convicted innocents many times because, however trustworthy science may sound, minimum error chances are always present there.
The failures of Forensic science are present from the lowest level to the highest levels of criminal justice. FBI had confessed in 2015 that there had been the use of faulty hair analysis in the trials, and many innocents have been convicted guilty based on those wrong tests.
FBI added that out of total convicted innocents, 32 were sentenced to death, while 14 were either executed or died in jail.
As humans cannot be trusted due to the minimum error percentage in the tests, scientific results are not 100% reliable as humans are performing the tests.
Though DNA evidence is considered one of the most trustworthy, there are many examples where innocents were convicted using DNA evidence. So can we trust the Forensic evidence reports? Should they be 100% reliable in court without any question? Has the police department become lazy since the arrival of DNA profiling.
Innocence Project is a non-profit legal organization that focuses on the cases in which the court wrongfully convicted the suspects based on DNA evidence. This organization was started by Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld in 1992.
The Innocence project is the founder of the Innocence network, which started in the U.S. and later saw growth in different English-speaking countries such as Canada, Australia, the U.K., New Zealand, etc.
The project gained its attention through its founders in 1995 when they became part of the Dream Team of lawyers.
The innocence project overturned more than 300 wrongful convictions by DNA evidence since 1989. Some of the examples of exonerated people are Amanda Knox Case, Darryl Hunt’s case, and Glenn Ford’s case.
According to a study, about 4% of the total prisoners sentenced to death from 1973-2004 are innocent.
Cases where innocents were wrongfully convicted
In 1994, O.J. Simpson was charged with the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman. The trial was held in Los Angeles county superior court, which is also one of the most talked-about cases.
This case looked simple as the trail of blood led from the crime scene to O.J. Simpson’s Bronco and his home. The DNA evidence of both victims and Simpson was found at the crime scene, Bronco, and O.J. Simpson’s house.
The prosecution had built a strong case against Simpson, while the defense had a powerful team of well-known lawyers. The defense noted several missing items, such as a control sample of Simpson’s blood and the glove whose size was small for Simpson’s hand to fit in.
The defense also exploited the racist nature inside the LAPD department. One of the case detectives was accused of planting forensic evidence and harassing black people in numerous cases.
The defense also exploited the mishandling of the forensic evidence and deterred it as a contaminated crime scene convincing the jury of the innocence of O.J. Simpson. He was formally acquitted from the case in 1995.
In 2005, Anne Marie Foy was assaulted and brutally killed in a wooded area off Crown Street, near Royal Liverpool Hospital. She worked as a prostitute and was beaten and strangled to death.
Five years later, David Butler was charged with the murder of Anne as his DNA profile matched partially with the DNA evidence at the crime scene.
Though he remained in jail, David never gave up as he fought till the end to prove his innocence and always said that he was a patient of Chronic Bronchitis and would never do something like that physically.
He told police: “I just want to reiterate that what’s gone on is wrong, and I will say to the day I die that I did not do this. I’m astounded by it all.“
Mr. Martini sought the help of a forensic expert since it was hard for everyone to swallow that how the DNA of David came into the crime scene if he was innocent.
After some tests, it was found that David Butler had a rare skin condition in which he sheds flakes of skin, and therefore, his DNA might have been transferred onto her body by mistake, and thus only a partial DNA profile was matched.
David was soon acquitted later from the case.
Meredith Kercher was found dead on 1st November 2007 in her apartment. Amanda Knox and her boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito were the primary suspects in the case as the forensic evidence found at the crime scene pointed towards them.
The case became famous worldwide as one of Amanda Knox’s suspects was American-born studying in Italy. She was interrogated for five days and later arrested for a murder charge along with her boyfriend.
Amanda accused Lumumba of the murder in her defense, but the statement was later nullified as Lumumba had an alibi. Two weeks later, when the forensic evidence reports arrived, they pointed towards Rudy Guede (who lived below the apartment of Amanda Knox).
Rudy Guede was also arrested and was charged with sexual assault and murder, and the trial took place in fast-track court while Knox and Sollecito decided to have a full trial. The forensic reports suggested that Rudy had gone out on a date with Meredith based on the DNA evidence and fingerprints of Rudy found in the room.
However, the prosecution was still convinced of the involvement of Knox and Sollecito and said that they partnered with Rudy Guede to kill Meredith and the DNA evidence and fingerprints of Sollecito on the assumed murder weapon and Meredith’s bra’s flask suggested the same.
In December 2009, Knox and Sollecito were found guilty and were sentenced to 26 and 25 years of imprisonment.
However, the defense exposed the flaws of the forensic evidence used to charge them. The defense criticized the investigation team for contaminating the evidence and also said that the assumed weapon had the DNA of Sollecito. However, it was free of the DNA of the victim.
Both Knox and Sollecito were then acquitted of the case, after which Knox returned to the US. The case was then again reopened in Italian’s Supreme court in 2013 and was again found guilty of murder, and was sentenced to 28.5 and 25 years of imprisonment, respectively.
In 2015, the Supreme court again found them not guilty of the charges, and the case was closed permanently.
There are numerous cases where the criminal justice system has been questioned in almost every country to either acquit a criminal or convicting an innocent. It is majorly due to the mistake of the investigators and forensic experts.
In many cases, Forensic professionals have been found guilty of planting or mishandling the evidence intentionally as well as due to laziness. The responsible authorities are taking such small steps to improve the situation and save innocents from being convicted in the future.
To exonerate the innocent convicts due to DNA evidence in the past, the Innocence Project was founded and has been helpful for many innocents. Without this project, a lot of innocents could have been still in jail or dead.