DNA Analysis on Criminal Cases' Term Paper

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" Giannelli (2003) stresses that advantages and reliability of scientific and technical evidence depend on whether a scientific culture exists. For reliability of DNA and other scientific evidence, there have to be sufficient written protocols and "an empirical basis for the most basic procedures." (Giannelli, 2003)

Barry Scheck, Peter Neufeld, and Jim Dwyer (cited by Giannelli, 2003) conclude that their investigations revealed that a third of the criminal convictions of 62 men, later exonerated by DNA evidence cases, involved "tainted or fraudulent science." In some instances, the fault could be contributed to rogue experts. The greater problem, albeit, stems from a greater problem, the forensics profession, an environment where misconduct may sometimes thrive. Forensic science needs more science, Giannelli (2003) stresses.

On an individual level, one of the most notorious cases involved Fred Zain, the chief serologist of the West Virginia State Police Crime Laboratory. A judicial report found that Zain committed many acts of misconduct over 10 years, including overstating the strength of results, reporting inconclusive results as conclusive, repeatedly altering laboratory records, grouping results to create the erroneous impression that genetic markers had been obtained from all samples tested, and failing to report conflicting results. In reviewing the report, the West Virginia Supreme Court spoke of "shocking and egregious violations" and the "corruption of our legal system." (Giannelli, 2003)

Exposures similar to Zain's scenarios are not always appreciated by some in the legal system.

Although Kevin Byrd served twelve years in prison, DNA tests excluded him as the perpetrator.

Governor Bush [now President] issued Byrd's pardon after the prosecution and the police were convinced he was innocent.

Governor Bush predicted Byrd's case would be the "first of many" in Texas utilizing DNA technology to re-examine old cases. That week, however, evidence custodians at the Harris County Clerk's office started to systematically destroy old rape kits in the evidence storage facility. Fifty rape kits were quickly discarded, helping to guarantee that instead of Byrd being the "first of many" to benefit from DNA technology in Harris County, he would most likely be the first and the last. (Jones, 2005)

Another contemporary case, ruled on by the Supreme Court in 2006, with the decision currently on appeal, regards Paul House, Tennessee death row inmate, convicted of raping Carolyn Muncey. In the "Statement of Barry C. Scheck" (2005), published in "Habeas Corpus Proceedings and Issues of Actual Innocence," the point is presented: "DNA testing is not a panacea for our justice system but a learning moment. The DNA exoneration cases teach us that more must be done to correct the weaknesses in our fact-finding system, to strengthen procedural due process protections, especially effective representation by counsel, not less...."

DNA testing directly rebutting the key forensic testimony, offered against Paul House, a Tennessee death row inmate at trial, was ignored and along with a number of other key facts were not developed. Six judges of the en banc Sixth Circuit, nevertheless became convinced that evidence establishes House's actual innocence beyond any doubt. Although they contend they would set him free without delay, none of the key facts were investigated by the court-appointed attorney, who represented House in his state post-conviction proceedings.

In direct contradiction of evidence presented at trial, DNA testing has established that semen on Mrs. Muncey's clothing came from her husband, not House. While the State claims that the evidence is immaterial since neither sexual contact nor motive were elements of the offense at the guilt phase, this Court considers the new disclosure of central importance. This case is about who committed the crime, so motive is key, and the prosecution at the guilt phase referred to evidence at the scene suggesting that House committed, or attempted to commit, an indignity on Mrs. Muncey. Apart from proving motive, this was the only forensic evidence at the scene that would link House to the murder. Law and society demand accountability for a sexual offense, so the evidence was also likely a factor in persuading the jury not to let him go free. At sentencing, moreover, the jury concluded that the murder was committed in the course of a rape or kidnapping. A jury acting without the assumption that the semen could have come from House would have found it necessary to establish some different motive, or, if the same motive, an intent far more speculative. Pp. 20-22.

The evidentiary disarray surrounding the other forensic testimony of an Assistant Chief Medical Examiner for the State of Tennessee, would prevent reasonable jurors from placing significant reliance on the blood evidence. The medical examiner who testified believes the blood on the jeans must have come from the autopsy samples. In addition, a vial and a quarter of autopsy blood is unaccounted for; the blood was transported to the FBI together with the pants in conditions that could have caused the vials to spill; some blood did spill at least once during the blood's journey from Tennessee authorities through FBI hands to a defense expert; the pants were stored in a plastic bag bearing a large bloodstain and a label from a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agent; and the box containing the blood samples may have been opened before arriving at the FBI lab. None of this evidence was presented to the trial jury. Whereas the bloodstains seemed strong evidence of House's guilt at trial, the record now raises substantial questions about the blood's origin. Pp. 22-28.

A d) in the post-trial proceedings, House presented troubling evidence that Mr. Muncey could have been the murderer. Two witnesses described a confession by Mr. Muncey; two others described suspicious behavior (a fight between the couple and Mr. Muncey's attempt to construct a false alibi) around the time of the crime; and others described a history of spousal abuse. Considered in isolation, a reasonable jury might well disregard this evidence, but in combination with the challenges to the blood evidence and lack of motive with respect to House, evidence pointing to Mr. Muncey likely would reinforce other doubts as to House's guilt. Pp. 28-33.

A f) While this is not a case of conclusive exoneration, and the issue is close, this is the rare case where -- "had the jury heard all the conflicting testimony -- "it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror viewing the record as a whole would lack reasonable doubt.

2. House has not shown freestanding innocence that would render his imprisonment and planned execution unconstitutional under Herrera v. Collins, 506 U.S. 390, in which the Court assumed without deciding that "in a capital case a truly persuasive demonstration of 'actual innocence' made after trial would render the execution of a defendant unconstitutional, and warrant federal habeas relief if there were no state avenue open to process such a claim," id., at 417. The threshold showing for such a right would be extraordinarily high, and House has not satisfied whatever burden a hypothetical free standing innocence claim would require. He has cast doubt on his guilt sufficient to satisfy Schlup's gateway standard for obtaining federal review, but given the closeness of the Schlup question here, his showing falls short of the threshold implied in Herrera. Pp. 34-36.

386 F. 3d 668, reversed and remanded. (House V. Bell, 2005, p. 2-4)

Despite new evidence "that gutted the state's case, the state didn't waiver, arguing that just because House didn't rape the victim doesn't mean he didn't kill her," Kelley (2008) reports. Along with more evidence surfacing which casts doubt on House's conviction, allegations of evidence tampering and prosecutorial misconduct have also evolved. "At least two witnesses came forward and claimed the victim's hard-drinking and often abusive husband tearfully confessed to accidentally killing his wife in a heated argument.... Experts even testified that the bloodstains found on House's blue jeans actually came from vials of blood taken during the autopsy, suggesting evidence was either intentionally tampered with or, at best, was grossly mishandled.... This case is a good example of how these errors can lead to the execution of a defendant who is actually innocent." (Kelley, 2008)


An unlocked door in the prison of Identity.

It leads into the jail yard."

Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914) (Columbia)

The Catalyst of DNA

The Virginia Code requires all convicted felons submit a sample of "blood, saliva, or tissue" to be used for DNA analysis and inclusion in the Virginia DNA Data Bank., Burges (2008) notes. This requirement linked James Earl Patterson, already convicted of another rape, serving a sentence for that crime, with the murder of Joyce Aldridge. His DNA, collected for the Data Bank, yielded the "cold hit" that eventually resulted in Patterson's conviction for Aldridge's murder and his ultimate execution.

Without the catalyst of the DNA evidence the police used to confront Patterson, he may have never confessed to the crime. Time-consuming nature of DNA analysis, despite its role in cases such as Patterson's, often results in a "massive backlog" of samples.…[continue]

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