Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Access to DNA Evidence

A recent article in The Washington Post titled Va. DNA Project Is in Uncharted Territory discussed the issues surrounding DNA testing for criminal cases from the past.

About three years ago, a $1.4 million project was launched by the State of Virginia to re-examine blood, semen, and saliva samples from approximately 400 rapes, murders, and other serious crimes from the 1970s and 1980s. The state is entering unchartered waters in terms of ethical and practical issues depending on the results of the DNA testing. The focus of the state's crime lab is the science of the DNA testing of samples. This project does not include determining guilt or innocence of the accused or wrongly convicted. That's being left up to the criminal justice system. Most of the convicts involved do not even know that this testing is being done.

This project raises a number of ethical issues. If evidence if found to implicate another individual, shouldn't the person convicted of the crime be informed? Shouldn't they be entitled to a new trial based on this evidence? Is it possible to rule out a suspect or someone convicted of a crime based on available evidence? Or does the investigation need to be reopened? Given the number of unsolved crimes, how much attention will these cases receive? If an individual was wrongly convicted and is found not guilty based on DNA evidence, what are their rights? Is a new trial required? Should they be pardoned automatically?

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