Monday, May 18, 2009

Test Away

I understand that prosecutors aren't required to roll over every time a defendant seeks a new trial, claiming actual innocence. I also understand that DNA, while a wonderful tool, is not a criminal justice magic bullet. But I'd like to think we'd all agree that knowing what the DNA says about a case is relevant to the overall equation.

To the contrary, this article in today's New York Times chronicles the difficulty some defendants have had seeking DNA testing in their cases. In some instances, the prosecution's objections are maddeningly circular:

In a case before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, for example, Lynne Abraham, the Philadelphia district attorney, argued that the defendant, Anthony Wright, was not entitled to DNA testing because of the overwhelming evidence presented at trial, including his confession, four witnesses and clothing stained with the victims’ blood that the police said was found at Mr. Wright’s home. The Pennsylvania DNA statute requires the courts to determine if there is a “reasonable possibility” that the test would prove innocence.But here's the thing.
If the DNA contradicts that evidence, it might show that the other evidence is simply not reliable. We know, from countless death row exonerations, that an inconsistent DNA analysis can lead to investigation that shows that eyewitnesses were wrong or that a defendant's confession was coerced.

DNA evidence is the closest we can come, in some cases, to "objective truth," at least on some issues. It's value as a jumping off point for other facets of the case should lead to its testing without such obstruction.

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