Monday, October 1, 2007

Access to DNA Evidence for Prisoners

Through the use of DNA evidence, more than 200 convicts have been exonerated of the crimes they have been imprisoned for. Because DNA evidence is providing opportunities such as these for convicts to prove their innocence, all but eight states currently are now making DNA evidence available to prisoners even though such evidence may not have been available to them at the time of their conviction.

It is reported that misidentification has led to wrongful convictions in 75% of the cases for which prisoners are now being exonerated. Due to such errors, many states, aside from increasing access to DNA evidence, are now also altering the methods in which witnesses identify suspects, the way informants are used, and the way evidence is handled by the crime lab. Also, at least six states have formed commissions to aid in the expedition of cases for those who are wrongfully convicted

Such access may provide assistance to many more prisoners, as studies suggest that there are “thousands more innocent people in jails and prisons”. One organization, the Innocence Project, is constantly reviewing thousands of cases and is currently pursuing approximately 250 of these cases. Unfortunately, many of these cases will never be heard as the evidence required to prove the innocence of the prisoner has been destroyed or lost.

Even though it may be only a small percentage of cases that are overturned due to this newly accessible DNA evidence, the fact that innocent people are finally being exonerated of crimes they have not committed seems to justify the time and expense required to provide access to such evidence. At the least, it seems that states are finally realizing the necessity of ensuring proper handling of evidence and the fallibility of witnesses, and are taking steps to ensure that both evidence and witnesses are handled properly to ensure proper convictions. While eyewitnesses will always be valuable in identifying suspects, technology today provides further support to these identifications and aids in ensuring that the proper person is charged for a crime. The added certainty provided by DNA evidence, assuming proper handling and maintenance of the evidence, should assure that people are not wrongfully convicted and deprived of their liberty.

No comments: