The structure of part of a DNA double helix
A stunning report was issued by the Department of Justice in 1996, reporting on 28 cases of men who'd been convicted of violent sex crimes, including murder, and were then freed from prison based on DNA tests.
by J.J. Maloney
These 28 cases could be the tip of an iceberg -- since the report points out there are still states that do not accept DNA evidence. Additionally, many convicted men cannot find an attorney to go to bat for them, or the resources to pay for testing. There also is no codified method for routine DNA testing for cases that have been long resolved. Finally, many jurisdictions routinely destroy all evidence after appeals have been exhausted.
The importance of this report, however, is that it challenges society's underlying assumptions about criminal law.
The first, and most important, assumption to be challenged is the credibility of eye-witness testimony. In case after case, the rape victim made a firm identification of the assailant -- the government's evidence seemed bulletproof. Yet DNA testing resulted in that defendant not only being freed from prison, but in some cases successfully suing for wrongful imprisonment.
One of the more startling findings of the study is that 20 percent of the DNA tests conducted reveal that the person charged with the crime was "excluded" by the test -- meaning the blood of the defendant did not match with the semen, blood, hair or other body cells found on the victim or at the scene of the crime.. This was based on more than 20,000 tests conducted at the time of this study, with half of those coming from the FBI's laboratory. An additional 20 percent of tests are "inconclusive."