DNA Clears 200th Person

Image from the Innocent Project.

Jerry Miller has been ordered released from jail after serving 25 years for a rape DNA has shown he didn't commit.

Miller is the 200th person shown by DNA evidence to have been wrongfully convicted.

The Innocence Project says,

The 100th exoneration occurred in January 2002, 13 years after the first exoneration. It took just more than five years for the number to double.

"Five years ago, people said that the number (of exonerations) was going to dry up because there just weren't many wrongful convictions," said lawyer Barry Scheck, who co-founded the Innocence Project in 1992 to help prisoners prove their innocence through DNA evidence. "But clearly, there are plenty of innocent persons still in prison. There's no way you can look at this data without believing that."

David Lazer, a Harvard University public policy professor who specializes in DNA issues, says improved testing technology and an increase in the number of lawyers who are taking on DNA cases should result in a continued increase in the number of wrongful convictions that are set aside.

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    And here we have another example (none / 0) (#1)
    by Deconstructionist on Mon Apr 23, 2007 at 05:05:52 PM EST
    Of CIRCUMSTANTIAL  evdence being used to exonerate a person convicted largely because of DIRECT  evidence:

    Miller, who is black, was identified by two parking lot attendants, who were also black. The victim, who was white, could not identify her assailant.

      When the DNA results are used to establish the inference that because the DNA obtained from the victim does not match the DNA of the defendant it is likely the defendant did not commit the crime, do we complain that the result is contrary to the direct evidence?

      Let's take it a step further. What if we have a case where  there was no direct evidence (identifications) and a proper and timely DNA test had been conducted which found that the DNA from the victim did amatch that defendant. would we argue that because the evidence is entirely circumstantial there should not be a conviction?

    What are the probabilities? (none / 0) (#2)
    by jerry on Mon Apr 23, 2007 at 06:45:13 PM EST
    It is not clear to me that DNA evidence is circumstantial, but I am not a lawyer....

    Isn't the DNA results a result of testing both victim and alleged accuser and matching various common genes?

    Isn't that direct evidence?

    What are the probabilities that the DNA testing is just wrong?  (type I error) Or falls within the error random chance (p < .05) natural error?


    direct evidence .. (none / 0) (#4)
    by Deconstructionist on Tue Apr 24, 2007 at 07:16:41 AM EST
     is evidence that, if believed, proves the fact at issue without any need for an inference.

      DNA evidence is circumstantial evidence of guilt because it requires one to draw the inference that the defendant's genetic material would not be where it was found unless he had committed the crime. Or, conversely, that the presence of someone else's genetic material causes us to draw the inference that someone other than the defendant committed the crime. the presence of the DNA is "a circumstance" that causes us to draw an inference as to the ultimate issue of fact (who did it). Now, there is "direct" testimony incolved still the pperson who conducts the rape kit gives direct testimony as to her gatherting of the evidence and the lab chemist gives direct testimony of her analaysis proedures, bust as to the ultimate issue of identity  it is circumstantial because, even if you believe the DNA comes from the defendant you still have to infer there is no other explanation for its presence other than the defendant deposited it where it was found. Obviously, it's VERY GOOD circumstantial evidence (assuming proper procedures) but it's still circumstantial.

      On the other hand, if I say I saw you do something, if I am believed, that provies the fact without any need for an inference to be drawn from the fact I saw you, that is direct evidence.  Of course, my direct testimony might be very strong: "I saw this person whom I know very well and have no bias against  from three feet away in a wll lit place  for 10 minutes;" or it can be very weak: "from 50 yards away  on a dark night I briefly  saw a stranger whom I later identified when the cops showed me his picture...."  The two examples are both direct but obviously deserving of different evidentiary weight.

       that also goes for circumstantial evidence. Some circumstantial evidence is extremely cmpelling and some is far less persuasive.  The real issue is not whether evidence is direct or circumstantial but how relaible and probative it is.


    Interesting. Thanks for the clarification. (none / 0) (#6)
    by jerry on Thu Apr 26, 2007 at 05:36:35 PM EST
    Thanks for explaining this point.  I had obviously never considered DNA evidence to be circumstantial before.

    DNA evidence (none / 0) (#3)
    by diogenes on Mon Apr 23, 2007 at 08:38:13 PM EST
    There are thousands of cases without DNA evidence either way.  As jurors read this stuff and watch CSI on TV it will be harder to convict based on victim's or other eyewitness statements.  Maybe that's good, but I'd like to hear what victims who are told that "there isn't a case" have to say about it.

    that is a valid point (none / 0) (#5)
    by Deconstructionist on Tue Apr 24, 2007 at 07:52:18 AM EST
      On the other hand, not only do I agree that juries should give closer scrutiny to eyewitness testimony (and that defendants should be given broader latitude to present expert testimony concerning the unreliability of recall and identification, etc.), but also I will point out that other biases prevalent in society play against defendants.

      We're never going to have a perfect system. We want a system as "close to perfect as possible" but a system designed and operated by human beings will necessarily be flawed.

      It involves value judgments as to to what priority should be given to minimizing the effect of certain flaws at the expense of increasing the effect of other flaws. At this level, every thoughtful person can and should have valid opinions and should advocate for their positions.