Posted: November 8, 2013 3:20 PM
A feature article in the November/December issue of Evidence Technology Magazine focuses on DNA evidence being used to overturn wrongful convictions and the importance of proper testing.
Huy Dao, the director of case intake and evaluation for the Innocence Project, told the magazine that while the organization has to “ ‘turn down the vast majority of people who write. . . because DNA is not going to be a factor in establishing identity, or resolving the question of guilt or innocence’ . . . DNA testing has become more refined in recent years.” Hence, the organization still looks into every type of case because there may be “potential DNA to be obtained and tested.”
Although it sounds like a simple test is all it takes to prove a client’s innocence, the process can be lengthy and arduous because of privacy issues and long waits for testing.
“ ‘Our mission statement makes this process sound simple, but it may take years to deal with the volume and quality of review for each defendant whose case might progress,’ Dao said. Meanwhile, the Innocence Project is also working with the federal government and states to help bring forth policy that will prevent wrongful convictions in the first place.”
Another organization highlighted in the article is the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, a state funded agency that investigates and evaluates post-conviction innocence claims.
Sharon Stellato, the Commission’s associate director, says, “ ‘In cases that involve physical evidence, we first determine what was originally collected and then work with law enforcement agencies to determine what has been preserved and what can be tested.’ ”
DNA evidence can only be helpful in these cases if reliable lab management systems are in place and a proper chain of custody for DNA samples is established. In Colorado, for example, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office uses automated software to track the evidence being tested and where it will be stored.
Before evidence can be tracked, it must be preserved. Despite many state laws enabling inmates to seek DNA testing, performing a test years after a conviction can be challenging or impossible if the evidence has been lost, destroyed or contaminated due to improper storage.
The Innocence Project recommends that all physical evidence in all criminal cases be properly maintained as long as the defendant is incarcerated, under supervision or in civil litigation.
Read the full article.
More on preservation of evidence.
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