DNA has long been touted as the be all end all of evidence in criminal cases. Its seeming objectivity and foolproof nature has often discouraged any critique that may suggest otherwise, but as often happens, the criminal justice system has revealed it to be far less flawless than one might assume. According to New Scientist Magazine, some practices have even led to an increase in errors. These four sources of contamination show that DNA doesn’t have the final say when it comes to criminal charges.
1. Sloppiness in the lab
Many of the DNA errors that have resulted in false convictions have been traced back to sloppy work in the lab. Technicians who are not careful can transfer DNA from one sample to another and even transmit their own DNA onto a piece of evidence. This has occurred many times, but the results undoubtedly compromise the fair trial a defendant is entitled to.
2. Crime scene compromise
Just as sloppy handiwork in the lab can contaminate the DNA on a piece of evidence, incorrect procedure at the crime scene can as well. Because crime scenes are messier and more sensitive than a lab environment, it is quite easy for this to happen when law enforcement agents are not careful. If evidence comes into contact with any other item or trace of DNA, it may become contaminated, and its results cannot be trusted.
3. Improper storage technique
The guidelines for collecting and storing evidence are quite clear and specific. Though primetime TV procedurals may show everything being tossed into plastic bags, the reality is that most evidence should be stored in paper packets, bags or envelopes. Evidence that is liquid or wet should be stored in a leakproof and non-breakable container. If these methods are not followed, the DNA contained on each piece of evidence is liable to become contaminated.
4. Deliberate sabotage
In rare circumstances, DNA contamination is not the result of error, but rather of deliberate sabotage. This may be instigated by a law enforcement agent, the prosecution or a lab worker, and motives might vary from racism or sexism to personal vendetta. No matter what the cause may be, though, a person whose DNA has been manipulated to increase the likelihood of a conviction is at great risk.
These are just a few of the problems with DNA evidence. If you are facing criminal charges, you should be aware of the rest as well. Contacting a lawyer might help you establish your defense and protect your rights.