NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Treat DNA Evidence with Caution

March 18, 2003

DNA testing -- when properly conducted and interpreted -- can provide proof of guilt or innocence. But improperly handled, experts warn, it can also lead to wrongful convictions.

  • DNA tests have played a role in exonerating more than 120 people so far.
  • But experts say it has the power to convict unjustly because juries think its results are infallible.
  • That is a particular danger when people who have had no more than a two-week course in the DNA process are presented to juries as accomplished forensic scientists.
  • Some legal experts argue that the government should pay the $2,000 to $4,000 needed for defense attorneys to retest DNA evidence -- rather than having to accept the results of government tests.

At present, DNA tests performed for the prosecution are seldom reanalyzed because defense lawyers, like everyone else, have become so convinced of its infallibility that they don't bother challenging the results.

Source: Adam Liptak, "You Think DNA Evidence Is Foolproof? Try Again," New York Times, March 16, 2003.


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