The inclusion of scientific evidence in criminal trials has been controversial, often met with a judicial propensity against admission of such evidence due to perceptions of unreliability and jury confusion. Conversely, it is evident that the use of DNA testing evidence has been instrumental in addressing miscarriages of justice and wrongful convictions, particularly those based on eyewitness testimony. A prime example is the case of Ronald Cotton who served ten years for a wrongful conviction on grounds of eyewitness identification.
Cotton's case is referred to by the Innocence Project, which is a nationwide public policy orientated litigation body taking on cases geared towards addressing miscarriages of justice and wrongful convictions through the use of DNA testing (www.innocenceproject.org). The work of the Innocence Project has exonerated 242 wrongful convictions on grounds of DNA testing and a central aim of the project is to push towards inclusion of early DNA testing evidence in the criminal justice reform and implement safeguards to try and protect against future miscarriages of justice.
[...] It is submitted that this is imperative in highlighting the need for criminal justice reform as underlined by the work of the Innocence Project Ronald Cotton: Case Study Facts If we consider the factual scenario, in 1984, there were two separate incidents of a defendant breaking into an apartment, severing the phone wires and sexually assaulting a woman during the course of robbery. In August Ronald Cotton was charged and arrested for one of these sexual assaults and subsequently convicted of rape and burglary in January 1985. [...]
[...] To this end, the work of the Innocence Project has been instrumental in highlighting the deficiencies of alternative methods used in criminal prosecutions, in particular the use of eyewitness testimony. A significant problem in eyewitness testimony is the influence of memory on mistaken identity, which is compounded by lineup procedures. This in turn has fuelled reform of identification procedures in several jurisdictions including State of Wisconsin, State of New Jersey, North Carolina, Suffolk County and Santa Clara. However, whilst such reforms are welcome in implemented the much needed reform in procedure, states remain slow to implement DNA testing procedures and it is submitted that this is imperative as the sooner DNA testing is used in evidence gathering, the higher the likelihood that the quality of evidence will be useful. [...]
[...] Indeed, the Innocence Project underlines the point that DNA testing itself does not resolve the flaws of the criminal justice system, it rather, provides “scientific proof of its existence, and illuminates the need for reform” (www.innocenceproject.org). The Innocence Project's drive for reform is mirrored by the warnings of Rowe in underlining the flawed approach of prosecutors and the judiciary in rejecting DNA testing: number of cases in which . prosecutors went forward with criminal prosecutions when only minimal genetic marker data were available and critics of the DNA typing who have opposed the admission of any DNA evidence should ponder the likely consequences of such an absolute prohibition: Law enforcement agencies and forensic science laboratories would be compelled to revert to the older methods” (in Connors p. [...]
[...] This position is further confirmed by Howitt (2006) and therefore, overall there has been a very conservative approach to admissibility of scientific evidence, which the Innocence Project highlight has contributed to significant number of wrongful convictions as a result of alternative evidence preferences. Additionally, whilst the Daubert case marked a departure from the entrenched Frye test, the judicial extrapolations in the Daubert case provide insight into judicial rationale for refusing admittance of scientific evidence. For example, Mr Justice Blackmun highlighted that the criminal justice should be cautious with scientific evidence as “expert evidence can be both powerful and quite misleading because of the difficulty in evaluating it. [...]
[...] Therefore the Innocence Project's use of DNA testing in exonerating wrongful convicts simultaneously highlights the need for changes to the criminal justice system process as the use of DNA testing itself not a panacea. For example in the Cotton case the length of time had severely reduced the utility of the evidence and therefore it is vital to ensure that the “highest standards for the collection and preservation of DNA evidence; ensuring that the DNA testing methodology meets rigorous scientific criteria for reliability and accuracy; and ensuring proficiency and credibility of forensic scientists so that their results and testimony are of the highest caliber and are capable of withstanding exacting scrutiny” (Connors iii). [...]
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