Thursday, January 9, 2014

DNA analysis; New technology which could accelerate exonerations has not yet been embraced by law enforcement, reports writer Matt Stroud in "The Verge." An interview with Law Professor David A. Harris, author of "Failed Evidence" is at the heart of the story. (Must Read. HL);

GIST: "(Gerard) 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......... Harris 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 Those FBI standards, Harris writes, are way out of date.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. Today’s forensic DNA analysis relies on "rules and procedures set up to allow relatively easy processing by lab personnel," Harris explains. Human beings, in other words, are expected to interpret DNA evidence one piece at a time, and then explain their analysis in court. Because current standards require a human being, and not a computer, to interact with every DNA sample, the analysis is labor intensive and can take a long time to carry out. As a result, crime labs can get bogged down if there’s a lot of evidence to analyze. And most DNA evidence gets tossed aside because it’s too complicated for a human to interpret......... Harris sees computer-aided DNA analysis as "indisputably better" than what’s available today. (The technical descriptor for Cybergenetics’ software is "automated short tandem repeat STR analysis," and other companies such as the Center for Advanced DNA AnalysisBode Technology, and ZyGem are making similar strides forward.) "In five years," he predicts, "law enforcement will have no choice. But that moment hasn't come yet." He imagines it could arrive, however, as more prisoners such as Gerard Richardson force courts to allow the retesting of old DNA evidence. "It’s my belief that we’re just at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to exonerations," he says. "Three hundred may not sound like a lot in comparison to the number of people who are in prison right now. But the number is only going to rise as advanced DNA analysis finds its way into the hands of more law enforcement agencies, more prosecutors, more defense attorneys.""

The entire story can be found at:


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