Tag: DNA testing
It's one thing to take DNA samples of those convicted of a felony. It's another to take it of all persons arrested, according to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU in federal court in California today.
The ACLU says DNA sampling is different from the compulsory fingerprinting upon arrest that has been standard practice in the U.S. for decades. A fingerprint, for example, reveals nothing more than a person’s identity. But much can be learned from a DNA sample, which codes a person’s family ties, some health risks, and, according to some, can predict a propensity for violence.
What’s more, in California the authorities are allowed to conduct so-called “familial searching.” That is when a genetic sample does not directly match another, so authorities start investigating people with closely matched DNA in hopes of finding leads to the perpetrator.
The complaint is here (pdf). A summary of the law being challenged, Prop 69, is here (pdf). Here's a congressional study saying the courts haven't fully addressed the issue and discussing 4th Amendment implications.
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Some welcome news to report on DNA testing in innocence claims:
Funded by a $1.2 million federal grant and using the latest DNA technology, Colorado prosecutors hope to review as many as 5,000 rape, murder and manslaughter convictions in the next 18 months to determine whether any inmates currently in Colorado prisons were unjustly convicted.
....Colorado Attorney General John Suthers and Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey said they, along with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and law students, will conduct a "systematic review" of cases where defendants may have been unjustly convicted, using DNA testing as a critical component in the review.
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In a 5-to-4 decision, the court found against William G. Osborne, a convicted rapist from Alaska. But the decision does not necessarily mean that many innocent prisoners will languish in their cells without access to DNA testing, since Alaska is one of only a few states without a law granting convicts at least some access to the new technology.
“DNA testing has an unparalleled ability both to exonerate the wrongly convicted and to identify the guilty,” the majority conceded, in an opinion written by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. “The availability of new DNA testing, however, cannot mean that every criminal conviction, or even every conviction involving biological evidence, is suddenly in doubt.”
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Two men in Mississippi, wrongfully convicted of murdering a child, have been released from prison after a decade, thanks to the work of the Innocence Project and local lawyers.
The cause of these wrongful convictions: fraudulent evidence. Peter Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project says:
"You have a local forensic dentist who fabricated evidence in both these cases to get two innocent men convicted."
Here's more from the Innocence Project on the clearing and release of Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks.In both cases, the real perpetrator has now been apprehended.
Update: Radley Balko at Reason has an update on Mississippi's woeful forensics system.
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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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The Bush Administration knows no bounds when it comes to violating our civil liberties. Here's the latest:
The Justice Department is completing rules to allow the collection of DNA from most people arrested or detained by federal authorities, a vast expansion of DNA gathering that will include hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants, by far the largest group affected.
The new forensic DNA sampling was authorized by Congress in a little-noticed amendment to a January 2006 renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, which provides protections and assistance for victims of sexual crimes. The amendment permits DNA collecting from anyone under criminal arrest by federal authorities, and also from illegal immigrants detained by federal agents.
Arrestees who have not been convicted of a crime should not be required to have their DNA sampled and collected. It's just the latest step down the slippery slope of over-intrusion into our privacy without just cause.
As Innocence Project co-director Peter Neufeld points out:
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