The Promise of DNA Testing
Americans like to think that under our system of justice, culprits are brought to trial, convicted, and punished. Yet the system is not perfect, and at times, in the presence of supposedly incriminating evidence, innocent people are swept up and wrongly convicted.
The science of DNA testing has been a major factor in changing the criminal justice system and determining responsibility for crimes. Supporters of such testing feel that it has provided scientific proof that our system routinely convicts and sentences innocent people, and that wrongful convictions are not the isolated or rare events they were once thought to be. Most important, DNA testing has opened a window into wrongful convictions so that the causes of such mistakes can be studied and remedies proposed.
Unfortunately, because of the onevous expense of mounting a scientific defense, many people who could benefit from DNA testing have not had access to it. Part of the growing movement to reform the criminal justice system involves correcting such irregularities in the availability of technology. As an example, consider the Innocence Project at the Benjamin N. Cardoza School of Law.
The Innocence Project was set up as a nonprofit legal clinic, and it handles only cases in which DNA testing may yield conclusive proof of guilt or innocence. At the clinic, students, overseen by a team of attorneys and clinic staff, handle the casework. Clients of the Project are generally people with very limited resources who have used up all of their other legal options. Many, it turns out, have been convicted on the grounds of mistaken identity or coerced confessions. Often, their last hope is that biological evidence from a case still exists for DNA testing.
Over the years, the Innocence Project has become more than a "court of last resort" for inmates who have exhausted their appeals and financial resources. The Project now helps law schools, journalism schools, and public defense offices across the country in proving the innocence of the wrongly convicted. To date, 128 people have been exonerated through the work of the Innocence Project staff.
Because human beings, who inevitably make mistakes, govern U.S. courts, the probability of wrongful conviction in criminal cases will likely never be eliminated. However, as advancing science and technology take more and more of the guesswork out of investigations, unjust and erroneous verdicts will become more infrequent occurances- so long as such technologies are within reach of all who need them.
Can you tell that I wish CSI had been on at the right time? lol