By Chris Corso, Attorney at Law.
Recently, defense attorneys around the nation have been questioning the validity of forensic tools that could wrongfully link their clients to crimes. The most recent forensic software being challenged currently is True Allele, a DNA interpretation program that was created to separate different strands of DNA from evidence.
DNA from several people can be present on any given item and intertwined DNA strands are extremely difficult to separate. Currently, most crime labs around the country aren’t able to accurately detangle different DNA strands, resulting in inconclusive lab results.
Reviewing former cases and resentencing procedures have been a hot topic recently, and forensic evidence is a big part of that. In recent years, the FBI acknowledged that other forensic tools used to prosecute people in the past, such as hair and bite-mark forensics, could be flawed. Now, defense attorneys want to know exactly how True Allele works so that their clients aren’t wrongly convicted.
The Problem with DNA Analysis and Forensics
A study by the Commerce Department revealed only seven out of 100 crime labs in the U.S. could accurately separate a complex DNA mixture, the Washington Post Reports.
In April 2015, the FBI admitted to errors over more than 20 years in evidence provided by its forensics lab that helps courts secure convictions, including death penalty cases, using hair. Bite-mark forensics are also under increased scrutiny for lacking reliability and concrete standards.
Here’s an example. Noah Geary is the lawyer for Michael Robinson, who TrueAllele linked to the fatal shooting of two men in Pennsylvania after a crime lab deemed DNA from the evidence provided was too complex to analyze. Geary challenged TrueAllele’s reliability and methodology by requesting to review the coding for the software.
A judge denied Geary’s request, and it is unclear whether the defense will file an appeal. Robinson could be sentenced to death as a result of these charges. The developer of TrueAllele, Dr. Mike Perlin, continues to refuse requests to review the system’s source code.
Understanding the Innocence Project
The Innocence Project is an organization that uses DNA analysis to exonerate wrongfully convicted individuals, including those who have been wrongfully convicted due to outdated or inaccurate forensics. In the past 27 years, there have been 336 post-conviction DNA exonerations. The true suspects and/or perpetrators have been identified in 166 of these cases.
In fact, the wildly popular Netflix series, Making a Murderer is a relevant example. The documentary which follows Steven Avery, who was released after serving 18 years in prison for a wrongful rape conviction, thanks to DNA analysis, is gaining serious traction nationwide.
Avery was wrongfully convicted of rape, released and then convicted again in a totally different murder case. DNA evidence played a large part in Avery’s conviction, a decision many have been highly informed of since the series began and do not approve of.
In fact, a petition for Avery’s pardon went viral. Washington responded to pardon petitions for Avery for his second conviction, which he is serving now.
“Since Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey are both state prisoners, the President cannot pardon them. A pardon in this case would need to be issued at the state level by the appropriate authorities,” the response says.
“While this case is out of the Administration’s purview, President Obama is committed to restoring the sense of fairness at the heart of our justice system. That’s why he has granted 184 commutations total — more than the last five presidents combined — and has issued 66 pardons over his time in office.”