Why Having an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney On Your Side Could Help You Avoid a False Conviction
DNA evidence has always been thought to be the infallible wave of the future; however, new information could change this perspective.
Even though every person’s DNA is unique, and every trace of a person’s DNA that is left behind will be identical, the testing methods available today cannot compare every single gene in a sample. In most cases, the testing works extremely well, with a very high degree of discrimination; however, there undoubtedly will always be a few inconsistencies or false identifications.
The controversy of the testing’s accuracy has centered on the admissibility of the testing evidence against a defendant. It has been argued that if the results of the tests are not 100 percent accurate, then they cannot be used as evidence of a person’s identity. This argument makes good common sense and has been given deference by some courts.
Currently, the FBI and state agencies have over one million samples of DNA in a DNA database. From this database, law enforcement agencies have created other databases of suspect types in unsolved cases, linking cases to each other to establish serial crime cases, and increasingly matching recidivist offenders to unsolved crimes generating “cold-hit matches.”
What is the problem with “cold hit matches,” you ask? The problem is that the law enforcement paradigm has shifted, with DNA matches at the beginning of an investigation rather than confirming a suspect’s identity after probable cause has been developed. Thus, the investigation begins with little more than a DNA database match, initiated by a machine calculation.
The problem with investigations on the sole basis of DNA database matches is that the system is fallible. In the U.K., where database searching has been the norm for more than a decade, several mismatches or false positives are expected every year. Though these false positive identifications are rare, they still result in investigations that may lead to convictions. This risk of coincidental matches was the central issue in the recent California case People v. Nelson (2008).
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