Sunday, November 25, 2007

DNA Database Effective, But Not Utilized to Full Potential


By Team UAB bs

Now it seems commonplace for states to have CODIS, a DNA database for convicted felons and crime scene evidence. Too bad it's not as common to test old evidence.

"Studies of wrongful convictions suggest that there are thousands more innocent people in jails and prisons. The Innocence Project, the nation’s most prominent organization devoted to proving wrongful convictions, is pursuing 250 cases and at any given time is reviewing 6,000 to 10,000 additional cases for legal action. Approximately 1 percent of those cases will be accepted, and half of those accepted cases are closed because evidence has been lost or destroyed."

DNA from old cases where the technology was not as sensitive or perhaps not yet available should now be reviewed to see if there is a match, or not.

"In a 2005 study, a University of Michigan Law School professor, Samuel R. Gross, estimated that 340 prisoners sentenced from 1989 to 2003 had been exonerated."

That's an average of nearly 25 people per year! I realize funding is an issue, but really what's more cost effective; paying someone to work on evidence to release what would probably far exceed 25 innocent people per year, or losing years of potential freedom and settling for thousands or millions of dollars in damages once they are released.

"The most recent prisoner to be exonerated by DNA evidence was Dwayne Allen Dail, who served 18 years in North Carolina for a false conviction of child rape. Prosecutors had used the victim’s identification of Mr. Dail and hair found at the crime scene to convict him. Years later, after repeated inquires from defense lawyers, the police found a box of additional evidence in the case that contained the victim’s semen-stained nightgown. DNA analysis ruled out Mr. Dail and implicated another man. Mr. Dail was released from prison in August."

First of all, why did he need repeated inquiries? This shouldn't be so difficult. Secondly, CODIS actually matched someone else. There should be a better way to get old evidence into the system for cases where the conviction wasn't made on DNA evidence, but where it was available. Perhaps it may have been discovered that Mr. Dail wasn't a match LONG ago. By now we should have diminished the backlog of convicted felons to be put into the system. Now we need to work on the backlog of old evidence.

6 comments:

Danny Vice said...

In the United States, restitution for those incarcerated is certainly not guaranteed. In fact, in many states, there are more government resources for those released on parole than there are for those who have been wrongly incarcerated and later exonerated and released.

Currently, an overwhelming number of people who have been exonerated of a crime are not compensated for the toll the incarceration took on their lives socially and economically.

Thus far, only 22 states in the US have laws in place to provide some level of compensation for those who were wrongly convicted. This means a majority of those who went back to court and proved their innocence are then required to sue for this compensation.

This process utilizes significant resources that a recently released inmate typically does not have. For those who do have the knowledge or financial ability to bring a case, the enormous cost of the additional legal wrangling involved may soak up much of the payout.

Many victims of this outrageous process are handed the more daunting challenge of simply restoring their name, let alone consideration of a lawsuit that may or may not result in restitution for the time that has been lost.

What's more, the payout often times received is meager in comparison to what is usually lost. Marty Tankleff for example was sentenced to a New York state prison after being wrongly convicted of killing his parents. Although his case was recently overturned, Marty just recently visited his parent's graves for the first time since their deaths.

Ronnie Taylor, a Houston man who was recently exonerated of a crime he didn't commit was engaged to be married before his arrest in 1993. DNA testing proved his innocence 14 years later - allowing him to finally marry his bride Jeanette Brown. (source)

The Innocence Protect, one organization established in 1992 utilizes DNA testing as a means to force new hearings for those who are wrongly accused. It's website lists hundreds of cases of wrongly convicted individuals who's cases were overturned after a conviction.

While the Weekly Vice does not subscribe to every point of view of the Project's mission statement, one has to wonder where our culture would be without such advocates. Many wrongfully accused individuals have languished in prison for decades before their faulty convictions were tossed out.

Here are a few more examples of justice gone horribly wrong:

Dennis Brown from Louisiana was convicted of a 1984 rape and spent 19 years in prison before DNA testing confirmed that he could not have been the rapist.

Marvin Anderson became the ninety-ninth person in the US to be exonerated of a crime due to post-conviction DNA testing. Even when another individual confessed to the crime Lamont was accused of, the Judge upheld the conviction until DNA evidence finally confirmed Lamont's innocence. He wasn't exonerated until 1992, nearly 20 years after his arrest.

Orlando Boquete's wrongful conviction of attempted sexual battery was vacated a staggering 24 years after his arrest back in 1982.

Robert Clark, wrongly convicted of rape, kidnapping and armed robbery in 1982, languished in prison primarily by mistaken eyewitness. Mistaken identity seems to be a common theme with the cases that later get overturned by post-conviction DNA evidence. Clark was finally vindicated 24 years later.

Luis Diaz was wrongly convicted in 1980 as the 'Bird Road Rapist', where 25 women were attacked, many of them sexually assaulted. Diaz was convicted for 8 of them. His case was overturned 25 years later in 2005.

Conclusion:

These are only a handful of the cases you can view HERE, however they are a sampling of the many instances where our legal system goes horribly wrong to such degree that compensation for one's life cannot be calculated as a mere loss of wages as most restitution awarding states provide.

The Weekly Vice supports tough sentencing guidelines for all sexual assault cases, particularly those of minor children.

We also believe however, that states should be equally aggressive with some level of state subsidy, restitution or other adjudged compensation that is deemed appropriate for each individual case. A dismal 22 states is not a goodwill showing for a nation who prides itself on a Justice For All philosophy.

Thanks For Accepting Comment-----

Danny Vice
The Weekly Vice
htt://weeklyvice.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

Its also a shame that the families of the victims have to revisit the horror of knowing the person(s) responsible are still out there.

Anonymous said...

How long is older DNA evidence reliable? It does not seem very cost effective or possible to store all of the evidence from previous cases for later investigations. Is the DNA information digitized? CP

Forensic Bloggers said...

DNA evidence tends to be fairly stable if stored in the proper conditions (cold, dry place).

CPs statement about storing the evidence hits on a current debate. Luckily, the stains and swabs that may or may not contain DNA don't take up too much space, but over time, it can certainly add up.

After the material is analyzed, it is "digitized" in the database. However, I believe the evidence is still kept in case it ever needs to be re-analyzed.

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