From gold standard to fool’s gold?


As DNA is used in more criminal cases and crime lab budgets are stretched thin, will DNA testing become a less-reliable form of evidence?

A defense attorney told the Washington Post this week that he’s worried false matches and plea bargains will increase in the next era of DNA testing, raising the possibility of wrongful conviction.

Laura Chase, a deputy state's attorney (in Maryland), said defense lawyers have feared challenging DNA evidence before a jury. As DNA evidence moves to less-violent crimes, she said, "I think it will encourage pleas. It always has encouraged pleas, and that will make the system more efficient."

Defense lawyers, the article says, fear that innocent defendants will be persuaded to plead guilty when confronted with DNA evidence – even if that evidence doesn’t necessarily connect the defendant to the crime scene. And as law enforcement agencies call for DNA testing in more minor cases – like burglaries and robberies – crime lab budgets could be stretched too far, increasing the possibility of mistakes.

"It runs the risk of turning the gold standard of evidence into fool's gold," said Stephen Mercer, a Montgomery lawyer.

Read the full article here

. (Washington Post, 09/08/08)

The Innocence Project supports the establishment of  state forensic oversight commissions and advisory boards to ensure that crime labs are properly managed and funded. When analysts are overburdened, underpaid or poorly trained, the risk of forensic error – and wrongful conviction – are increased.

Read more about forensic oversight here


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