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Expanded DNA Testing Frees Innocent U.S. Prisoners

April 23, 2008 03:00 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Innovative DNA analysis has exonerated convicts and brought criminals to justice. But genetic science in the courtroom is still a cause for controversy.

30-Second Summary

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Courts are increasingly relying on DNA testing, and genetic analysis has helped free 216 wrongfully convicted people across the United States, reports The Economist.

That number may soon rise to 219.

In 1993, the West Memphis Three, a trio of teenagers from West Memphis, Ark., were convicted of murdering three eight-year-old children. Many considered the prosecution’s case weak, and a growing chorus of advocates is calling for a new trial.

Thanks to advances in forensic testing, those calls may be answered.

Recent DNA analysis concluded that a hair from the crime scene could not be from the defendants, but may belong to one victim’s stepfather, and a judge has ordered a new evidentiary hearing.

Dennis Rader was convicted of killing 10 people in Kansas after his daughter’s DNA tied him to the crimes, The Washington Post reports. Unbeknownst to Rader’s daughter, investigators had obtained a court order to examine a Pap smear taken from her at a medical clinic.

Some privacy advocates object that such practices “turn relatives into genetic informants.”

The California Criminal Lawyer Blog reports that emerging “second-generation” DNA tests raise other ethical and legal issues, by seeking to link genetic information to “the biological traits and psychological states of the accused.”

Criminal defense attorney Mary Frances Prévost says such developments raise the question “Can some violent criminals blame their behavior on their genes?”

Headline Links: DNA testing exonerates and convicts

Opinion & Analysis: Forensic advances and wrongful convictions

Background: The West Memphis Three

Related Topic: ‘U.S. Expanding DNA Data Collection to All Federal Arrestees’

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