The Champion

January/February 2006 , Page 10 

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Tarnish On The 'Gold Standard': Recent Problems In Forensic DNA Testing

By William C. Thompson

DNA evidence has long been called “the gold standard” of forensic science. Most people believe it is virtually infallible — that it either produces the right result or no result. But this belief is difficult to square with recent news stories about errors in DNA testing. An extraordinary number of problems related to forensic DNA evidence have recently come to light. Consider, for example, the following:

  • The Houston Police Department (HPD) shut down the DNA and serology section of its crime laboratory in early 2003 after a television expose revealed serious deficiencies in the lab’s procedures, deficiencies that were confirmed by subsequent investigations. Two men who were falsely incriminated by botched lab work have been released after subsequent DNA testing proved their innocence. In dozens of cases, DNA retests by independent laboratories have failed to confirm the conclusions of the HPD lab. The DNA lab remains closed while an outside investigation continues.1 
  • In Virginia, post-co
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