Las Vegas Sun

October 21, 2014

Currently: 85° — Complete forecast | Log in | Create an account

Sun editorial:

Justice and DNA tests

Study shows prosecutors often oppose tests, even though justice might hinge on them

A University of Virginia professor recently studied 225 court cases in which the primary suspect was exonerated through DNA testing. He found that prosecutors in nearly 20 percent of the cases had opposed the testing.

Also revealed was that prosecutors had initially opposed the testing in many other cases before eventually relenting.

The New York Times, writing about the study this week, reported that in 98 of the 225 cases studied, the DNA tests identified the real culprit.

Given the accuracy of today’s DNA tests, and the increased speed with which they can be conducted, the question is why prosecutors so often reflexively protest when defendants or their attorneys request this procedure.

The Times cited a case in which a Pennsylvania district attorney opposed DNA testing for a defendant because of overwhelming evidence presented at trial, including the testimony of four witnesses.

Yet the Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization based in New York that assists inmates who are trying to prove their innocence through DNA testing, says on its Web page: “Eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide.”

In the United States 238 people have been exonerated after their convictions through DNA testing, the organization says. Yet the Times reported that prosecutors in Illinois, opposed to testing a man convicted of murder when he was 14, argued that the jury was convinced of his guilt and that DNA exonerations so far have been “statistically insignificant.”

Tell that to the people who have been exonerated after their convictions, including 17 who had been sentenced to death.

Trial by jury is the best system ever devised for deciding a person’s guilt or innocence, but it is not infallible, as proven by DNA testing. Our view is that the University of Virginia professor’s study shows that DNA testing is opposed by prosecutors far too frequently.

Justice would be better served if the court system, including prosecutors, viewed DNA testing as routine in cases of serious crimes if samples are available.

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy

Previous Discussion: comment so far…

Comments are moderated by Las Vegas Sun editors. Our goal is not to limit the discussion, but rather to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and contain no abusive language. Comments that are off-topic, vulgar, profane or include personal attacks will be removed. Full comments policy. Additionally, we now display comments from trusted commenters by default. Those wishing to become a trusted commenter need to verify their identity or sign in with Facebook Connect to tie their Facebook account to their Las Vegas Sun account. For more on this change, read our story about how it works and why we did it.

Only trusted comments are displayed on this page. Untrusted comments have expired from this story.

No trusted comments have been posted.