Sunday, December 21, 2008

Project Innocence Making A Difference

The growing number of convicts cleared of crimes, which I have mentioned several times, is a promising trend in justice. Today I found this at TalkLeft, from TChris.

Speaking of police crime labs that produce unreliable results, the Innocence Project recently asked the Maryland state police to investigate the Baltimore police crime lab.

The Innocence Project, a national group of lawyers who try to exonerate convicts based largely on new DNA evidence, wrote in the complaint that "serious negligence or misconduct substantially affecting the integrity of forensic results has occurred at the Baltimore Police Department Crime Laboratory... Recently, the BPD-CL revealed that a lab employee working in the DNA lab contaminated evidence in approximately 12 open cases."

Lab staff didn't wear gloves when handling evidence, and the lab failed to enter the DNA profiles of its staff members into its database, causing staff contaminations to appear as "unknowns." These were among the failures of management that caused the crime lab's director to be canned in August.

[T]he Innocence Project alleged the contamination "can incorrectly steer investigators away from identifying criminals, can weaken criminal prosecutions [by suggesting that another, unidentified person's DNA was present at the crime scene], and can lead police to discount what should be strong DNA evidence and instead focus on innocent suspects."

As to whether the state police will accept the invitation to investigate the crime lab: a spokesperson says they're "carefully considering" the complaint but can't say when they might respond.

The number of convictions overturned by DNA evidence speaks loudly about the need to make sure our Rule of Law is truly carried out in criminal cases. We have a way to go before we can reach a point where everyone has equal access to justice, but Project Innocence is doing very good work to reach it.

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Blogger David M. Greenwald said...

I'm glad this stuff is getting looked into. I think it was last year, a big study by CNN revealed that a lot of the so-called forensics evidence used in courts was based on assumptions and not double-blind scientific examination.

9:17 PM  
Blogger Ruth said...

Dallas leads the nation in this way, anyway, since we have the most overturned on new evidence. A very good change via voters, to Dem officials, made this happen, btw.

10:37 AM  

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