How DNA Evidence Can Contribute to Wrongful Convictions

Author: Susan with Innocence Project of Florida, Inc.
Edited by James

An Atlanta Post article by Charing Ball makes a compelling argument against greatly expanding DNA testing on a national basis.

Says Ball, “Many things can corrupt DNA, and as such, criminal investigations should be under closer scrutiny for their reliance on the sole use of this tool….This mad rush to build databases has in some cases impeded the ability of investigators to not only process evidence, but pursue investigations. As a result complaints have risen about mistakes at DNA labs around the country.”

Ball goes on to cite examples from Virginia, Las Vegas, and possibly San Francisco. It reminds us that DNA, when proper testing and evidence procedures are followed, is a wonderful tool but it is not the 100% accurate when in the wrong hands.

“Nevada Exoneree Wins Lawsuit Raising Awareness of Lack of Wrongful-Conviction Compensation Laws”. The Las Vegas Sun item cites Dwayne Jackson’s $1.5 million settlement for the four years he spent behind bars for a wrongful conviction.

Author Steve Kanigher notes that, “Nevada remains one of 23 states that doesn’t require government to pay those who are mistakenly incarcerated.” However, some of the 27 states that have passed compensation laws “require compensation only through private compensation bills that must be approved by lawmakers, often a highly politicized process that requires exonerees to mount costly campaigns.”

The surprising news? Texas has one of the best laws on the books according to the Innocence Project of New York. It provides for an annuity, child support payments, education tuition, and full access to services that help re-entry into society in addition to $80,000 for each year of wrongful incarceration.

And more from Las Vegas. This is a look at five cases of the wrongfully convicted, all in the city of Las Vegas. Las Vegas Sun Reporter Rebecca Clifford-Cruz details cases, including that of Dwayne Jackson mentioned above, from murder to robbery and child molestation that caused five men to spend years behind bars for crimes someone else committed. The reasons include the usual suspects: false witness testimony, inadequate defense counsel, mishandling of DNA evidence, incorrect sentencing, insufficient evidence, and discrimination against minorities.

Sorry seems to be the hardest word.

Finally getting it right in Massachusetts. The JamaicaPlainPatch tells us that residents of Suffolk County can rest easier. Not only is the man who committed serial rapes in 1991 behind bars, but the innocent man previously convicted of the crimes is free.

“After herculean efforts by prosecutors, police officers, victim advocates, and others, we’ve accomplished what was once impossible,” Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said. “We’ve brought to justice a man who eluded identification and accountability for decades, and in the process we changed the way our cases are investigated, built, and prosecuted.”

Conley has routinely permitted post-conviction DNA testing and helped to change eyewitness evidence procedures that eventually led to the release of Powell and others. He was recognized by the Boston Bar Association for his efforts to “address, correct, and prevent wrongful convictions”. Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project said that Conley’s actions “put Boston at the forefront of the country”.

Kudos to Conley for helping to exonerate Anthony Powell who served 12 years for crimes committed by Jerry Dixon. As Powell watched Dixon admit to the crimes in court, his lawyer told that “Powell remains upset that he has not received an apology from Judge Robert A. Mulligan, who presided over the case and is now the Superior Court’s chief justice for administration and management.” Powell felt the judge was “totally hostile” to him during the trial.

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