Saturday, May 31, 2014

DNA Exoneration: El Jazeera America story contains an important caution on DNA testing from John Jay College's Prof. Lawrence Kobilinsky: DNA testing is not 100 percent foolproof...Because humans must collect and test DNA samples, the process is susceptible to human error.

REMINDER: Al Jazeera America presents another episode in its excellent series on the American criminal justice system "The System"  tomorrow - Sunday June 1 at 9.00 PM Eastern Time; 6.00 PM Pacific Time.

STORY: "DNA exoneration: Redeeming the wrongfully convicted," by  Associated Press reporter Julio Cortez, published by Al Jazeera on May 27, 2014;

SUB-HEADING:  "Across U.S., 316 jailed criminals have successfully proved their innocence and found justice through forensic science."

GIST:  "Lawrence Kobilinsky, chair of the sciences department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said that the public, as well as judges and juries, considers DNA testing to be “the gold standard” for proof that, if produced, can trump other types of evidence. In addition to its potential to free the innocent, DNA testing can help identify a crime’s true culprit. Nearly half of DNA exoneration cases lead to someone other than the falsely convicted individual. Kobilinsky cautioned that DNA testing is not 100 percent foolproof, though. Because humans must collect and test DNA samples, the process is susceptible to human error. “People can pipe material into the wrong well, or they can mislabel samples. You cannot have an expert go on the stand and say, ‘We never make mistakes,’ because that’s not real life,” he says. Still, Kobilinsky said efforts by advocacy groups have “revealed to convicts, felons and criminals that there is a way out of prison.” The professor added: “But you can get a D.A. [district attorney] who doesn’t want to have a case opened up. They have a conviction under their belt. Why would they want the case overturned? [Yet] a D.A. should be cognizant of their mission, which is justice — not just winning a case.”.........Flawed forensics: This type of scientific mistake occurred in the process of convicting around half of those ultimately exonerated through DNA testing. Botched forensic techniques include hair microscopy, firearm analysis and shoe print comparison. Some cases are led astray due to misconduct by forensic scientists."

The entire story can be found at:

Al Jazeera "The System" web page:  Flawed forensics: "Nearly 20 years later, the fates of two men are still entangled in the FBI’s faulty hair analysis from all those years ago. Both men were found guilty of multiple murders and now one is on the outside, recently released and waiting for a retrial, while the other is still on death row, hoping the State will allow him the DNA test he needs to keep him alive."


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