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Scientific Breakthrough Paper

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Scientific Breakthrough Paper

Scientific Breakthrough Paper

Forensic DNA typing has had a broad, positive impact on the criminal justice system. In recent years, convictions have been obtained that previously would have been impossible. Countless suspects have been eliminated prior to the filing of charges. Old, unsolved criminal cases, as well as new cases, have been solved. In a very few case, mistakenly accused defendants have been freed both before trial and after incarceration. Increasingly, the unidentified remains of crime victims are being identified.

Advances in DNA technology hold enormous potential to enhance our quality of justice even more dramatically. However, significant increases in resources are needed to enlarge forensic laboratory capacity and expand DNA databases. No other investment in our criminal justice system will do more to protect the innocent, convict the guilty and reduce human suffering (Peterson, December 19, 2002).

In keeping with these beliefs, the National District Attorneys Association has supported funding for forensic laboratories to eliminate backlogs in the testing of biological samples from convicted offenders and crime scenes. Funding by the federal government is a critical component in realizing the full potential of DNA testing. (Thimsel, 1998).

The National District Attorneys Association has always supported the use of DNA testing where such testing will prove the actual innocence of a previously convicted individual and not serve as a diversionary attack on the conviction.

First, it would be good to clear up several popular misconceptions. The vast majority of criminal cases do not involve DNA evidence. Just as fingerprint evidence, although available for decades, is seldom a conclusive factor in a prosecution, DNA evidence will likewise, even though it is increasingly available and more determinative, will not be a factor in a large majority of cases.

Secondly, the absence of a biological sample, in and of itself, is not necessarily dispositive of innocence. There can be many reasons why an identifiable biological sample was not available at a crime scene, yet an individual can still be guilty of the commission of a crime. In many cases DNA testing results that exclude an individual as the donor of biological evidence do not exonerate a suspect as innocent. In a sexual assault involving multiple perpetrators, for example, a defendant may have participated in the rape without depositing identified DNA evidence. Moreover, as powerful as DNA evidence is, it tells us nothing about issues such as consent, self-defense or the criminal intent of the perpetrator.

Lastly, the issue of post-conviction DNA testing, such as contemplated by the Innocence Protection Act, involves only cases prosecuted before adequate DNA technology existed. In the future, the need for post-conviction DNA testing should cease because of the availability of pretrial testing with advanced technology (, 2000).

DNA testing, in most cases, should be afforded only where such testing was not previously available to the defendant. Post-conviction testing should be employed only in those cases where a result favorable to the defendant establishes proof of the defendant’s actual innocence, exonerating the defendant as the perpetrator or accomplice to the crime.

In limited circumstances post-conviction DNA testing may be appropriate where testing previously has been performed. Although DNA testing in criminal cases became available in the mid-1980s, the forms of testing typically used today were not widely available until the mid-1990s. These present-day methodologies allow the testing of much smaller samples in a shorter time and are reliable on degraded samples (Schimt, 2001).

Because of these considerations the National District Attorneys Association has consistently supported state legislation that removes barriers to post-conviction DNA testing in appropriate cases and with appropriate safeguards.

Having said this, however, it is good to emphasize that post-conviction testing should be employed only in those cases in which a result favorable to the defendant establishes proof of the defendant’s actual innocence. Requiring only that the results of a DNA test produce

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