Is DNA analysis stuck in the past? | The Verge

Posted: January 3, 2014 by scaryhouse in Uncategorized

By Matt Stroud

A few weeks ago, the Innocence Project of New York IP announced that it had helped to release another innocent person from prison. This time it was Gerard Richardson. As The Verge outlined in September, Richardson was convicted of murdering a New Jersey woman in 1994 after a forensic odontologist concluded that the shape of Richardson’s jaw and the orientation of his teeth matched a bite mark on the murdered woman’s back.

After years of legal wrangling, IP was finally allowed to conduct a DNA test to double-check the odontologist’s conclusions. Their goal: to determine whether saliva swabbed from the bite mark in 1994 matched Richardson’s genetic makeup. It didn’t. The odontologist’s conclusion was proven false. Given this new information, prosecutors dropped Richardson’s case, and a judge declared him exonerated. After serving 19 years behind bars for a crime he had nothing to do with, Richardson finally walked home to his family as a free man on December 17th.

Richardson’s ordeal is but one in a steadily increasing number of cases overturned using DNA evidence. To this day, IP is aware of 311 such exonerations — cases in which someone was declared innocent of a crime long after they had been convicted in court. About 70 percent of those exonerations relied on DNA evidence.

But if you ask David A. Harris, that number should be much higher. Not only that; he also says new technology could accelerate such exonerations now — if only law enforcement would make the decision to use it.DNA HAS EXONERATED HUNDREDS OF INNOCENT PRISONERSHarris is a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh who focuses on police behavior and law enforcement regulation. Last year, he published his third book, Failed Evidence, which argues that people in law enforcement are not only late to adopt state-of-the-art technology and scientific breakthroughs, they’re also fundamentally resistant to new innovations and to science.

An example of this, he writes, can be found in law enforcement’s approach to DNA.While DNA evidence is often seen as a hyper-advanced, solve-anything, find-anyone technology from its portrayal on TV shows like Law and Order: SVU and Dexter, many of the FBI’s standards for DNA analysis are nearly 20 years old. The FBI’s current standards cite a committee report from the National Research Council titled, An Update: The Evaluation of Forensic DNA Evidence. That update occurred in 1996.Those FBI standards, Harris writes, are way out of date. And as those standards sink further into obsolescence, many criminal cases are likely going unsolved, and many faulty convictions are likely going unchallenged.

via Is DNA analysis stuck in the past? | The Verge.

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