Yes, it’s scary when DNA evidence proves faulty

Here’s a nightmare of almost unimaginable scope that we sketch for readers of our California criminal defense blog. We suspect that it will readily induce empathy from anyone who dwells on its details for even a moment or so.

To wit: A prosecutor insists that DNA evidence targets you as the wrongdoer in a horrific crime. You know that the accusation is false. Nonetheless, the state is dangling that evidence – universally perceived as taint-free and even infallible – in your face. Virtually no party will favor your version of truth over what technicians with advanced degrees have produced via lab-driven research.

That scenario plays out somewhat routinely on cop shows and crime dramas, doesn’t it? Yet it also spells reality in the real world, as sadly evidenced by recurring stories that underscore an “offender’s” innocence years after conviction-driving DNA evidence is proven false.

A recent New York Times article authored by a biology professor deeply involved with DNA research stresses fundamental concerns with the accuracy of high-tech evidence that, while often cited as unassailable, turns out to be flawed.

Dr. Greg Hampikian points to seminal research carried out a few years back by the National Institute of Standards and Technology – “the largest study of its kind” – that flatly fuels suspicions regarding any argument that DNA findings are unchallengeable.

NIST researchers supplied 108 crime laboratories with the DNA of several “suspects” potentially involved with a mock bank robbery. Shockingly, 74 of those labs – nearly 70% of all involved facilities – concluded that an innocent person participated in the crime.

Other research efforts have similarly reached results showing that evidence offered via DNA analysis cannot flatly be deemed as conclusive and beyond challenge.

Hampikian states that “there are many innocent people who hope the crime labs and courts take the national institute’s study seriously” and make truly painstaking efforts to ensure the reliability of evidence offered in criminal cases.

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