DNA – conviction and freedom

The debate about DNA rages on with Victoria, Australia, temporarily halting the use of DNA in criminal cases because of a problem with interpretation of results after new technology was brought online in September. As a result of the new technology more detailed information was obtained from DNA samples but the statistical models used to interpret the data are now inadequate (Police put ban on DNA evidence). Victoria’s Police Forensics Lab is having a rough time of it lately, with staff refusing to attend court and then being threatened with legal action, a rape case falling over because DNA evidence was contaminated and other issues having a deleterious effect on how the laboratory is running.

Happily, DNA evidence in England now seems to be fairing much better after the suspension of Low Copy Number DNA evidence in 2008 following the spectacular collapse of a major trial against a man charged with one of Northern Ireland’s worse bombings – the Omagh bomb in 1998 (DNA test halted after Omagh case). A man was recently cleared of rape (after he’d been sentenced in 2002 to six years’ imprisonment) as the result of DNA evidence that showed he had not penetrated the victim but that there was evidence of the DNA of three other males on the swabs from the Complainant (Man given six years for rape cleared by new DNA evidence) and another man was convicted after a random “hit” on the DNA database. To me it shows that DNA is one of those areas of forensic science where you can never take your eye off the ball.

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