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Evaluating forensic DNA evidence: Essential elements of a competent defense review
By William C. Thompson; Simon Ford; Travis Doom; Michael Raymer; Dan E. Krane
“I get a sinking feeling when I hear
a client has been fingered by a DNA test,” a defense lawyer recently told us.
“Seems there’s not much I can do but negotiate a guilty plea.”
Promoters of forensic DNA testing
have done a good job selling the public, and even many criminal defense
lawyers, on the idea that DNA tests provide a unique and infallible
identification. DNA evidence has sent thousands of people to prison and, in
recent years, has played a vital role in exonerating men who were falsely
convicted. Even former critics of DNA testing, like Barry Scheck, are widely
quoted attesting to the reliability of the DNA evidence in their cases. It is
easy to assume that any past problems with DNA evidence have been worked out
and that the tests are now unassailable.
The problem with this assumption is
that it ignores case-to-case variations in the nature and quality of DNA
evidence. Although DNA technology has indeed improved since it was first used
just 15 years ago, and
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