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Medical Lab Testing of Criminal Evidence: How Accurate is DNA Testing, Really?

As technology has advanced, there was an assumption made that there would be many more open and shut cases in the world of criminal justice. The hope was that this would lead to fewer trials, more plea deals, fewer false incarcerations, and an overall decrease in crime rate.

One of the major leaps forward in lab testing of criminal evidence was the ability to rapidly sequence DNA found at a crime scene and match it to a potential suspect. If the person's DNA was found at the crime scene, it places them there at some point in time; however, just how accurate is DNA testing? 

A Shocking Revelation

An article was recently published that focused on one of the largest public forensic centers in the country based out of Texas. The lab processes DNA evidence from close to 500 cases annually. DNA evidence is routinely used in cases such as murders and rapes. An investigation into this DNA testing center demonstrated that the technicians employed by the police department would routinely mishandle DNA from these cases.

If the DNA isn't handled correctly, it could seriously throw off the results of the test, making the DNA evidence invalid for the purposes of the criminal case. Even if the DNA was handled correctly, the police department was often misinterpreting the results. While some may think that matching the result of the DNA from the crime scene sample to the DNA collected from the suspect should be relatively straightforward, in appears too challenging for this police laboratory.

Testing of DNA Evidence

DNA evidence is collected and tested by taking samples from suspects and using enzymes to amplify the genetic code contained in the cells from the samples. This amplification process gives the lab more DNA to work with to strengthen the validity of the results when they compare the DNA to the sample from the crime scene.

Over the years, DNA has led to numerous exonerations in convictions made on false grounds, such as faulty eyewitness testimony of racial prejudice. As this occurred, DNA evidence earned a reputation for being the one infallible science in the world of criminal justice. It was the ultimate arbiter of truth and justice in an imperfect world. Unfortunately, DNA evidence in criminal cases is only as effective as those processing it.

Questions Regarding Testing of DNA Evidence

What happens if the sample being tested doesn't contain enough material to run an accurate test? What if the sample is contaminated by the DNA of the person handling the sample? What about the fact that over 99.9 percent of the genes in every human being on Earth is identical?

And what if a DNA testing lab is compensated in the form of a bonus for every conviction coming from a sample returning from that lab? DNA testing is far from perfect. Virtually all criminal cases contain complex pieces of evidence including, but not limited to, DNA samples.. If you or a loved one is facing criminal prosecution or you have questions about potential charges that may be filed in future, please contact an experienced criminal defense attorney for confidential guidance. 

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