Tuesday, January 28, 2014

audit reveals errors in national DNA database

The FBI maintains a database of DNA samples, taken from convicts, suspects, and crime scenes. A recent audit showed errors in nearly 170 profiles. In a database that holds 13 million profiles, 170 seems a small number though the importance is crystal clear to those whose cases may have been affected.

To those who have been exonerated or convicted because of DNA evidence, the realization that DNA evidence isn't infallible must be mind-blowing. How does it feel to sit in prison wondering if a typo or bad handwriting were part of the reason for your conviction? 
The discoveries, submitted by the New York City medical examiner’s office to a state oversight panel, show that the capacity for human error is ever-present, even when it comes to the analysis of DNA evidence, which can take on an aura of infallibility in court, defense lawyers and scientists said.
In a world where the majority of defendants accept a plea agreement, the prosecution doesn't need to prove anything to a jury. When the prosecutor can pin a defendant between a mandatory minimum sentence and a plea agreement--and going to trial can add years to one's sentence--the prosecution can be confident that anything they say about DNA evidence will not be challenged.

A prosecutor's best tool is supposed to be evidence that the defendant committed this particular crime. Instead, his best tool is the mandatory minimum sentence.

This is not a reliable path to justice.

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