It always surprises me how often those who are most likely to condemn the quality of legal system are also those who want to give it the power to execute people. “We can be 100% sure if there’s DNA evidence”, they suggest.
And yet, in December 2009 we’re still finding it unreliable:
AT LEAST six criminal cases have been put on hold after new flaws were found in police DNA evidence procedures.
Chief Commissioner Simon Overland yesterday said he had banned police forensic scientists from giving evidence ”until further notice”.
The flaw in the system involves the interpretation of results provided from new-generation DNA equipment that is more sophisticated than previous technology.
This problem will be fixed, but the point is that until last week the courts may have convicted people on what now appears to have been flawed evidence. Who knows what we may learn about present procedures in the future?
Obviously I’m not saying we must stop convicting people on the off-chance that we may later discover the evidence on which we relied is unsafe. Beyond “any conceivable” doubt would be an impossible test and everyone would be acquitted – no-one is seriously advocating that. But we should remember that this is a system run by people and subject to human error. In countries with the death penalty, innocent people are often not exonerated until they’re on death row. It is very likely that some are simply executed.
This reminder about DNA evidence should give pause to those who think that we could introduce capital punishment safely because with modern technology, it’s almost impossible for us to make a serious mistake.
UPDATE: Also, there are apparently problems with handling of drug exhibits.