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Archive for December, 2009

Wrongly Convicted Man Set Free!

Friday, December 18th, 2009

DNA tests performed by DNA Diagnostic Center’s Forensic Division led to the exoneration of James Bain, who will be celebrating his first Christmas with his family after 35 years of incarceration. DDC Forensics was approached by the Florida Innocence Project to work on the case, for the laboratory’s expertise in analyzing DNA from aged DNA samples typical of post-conviction cases. Mr. Bain’s DNA was compared with the perpetrator’s biological material obtained from the crime scene, and the analysis showed no match between his DNA profile and the evidence.

Of the 246 DNA exonerees to date, Bain has served the longest prison term as an innocent man. Dr. Ellen Moscovitz, President and CEO of DNA Diagnostics Center stated, ““This is a very profound moment for all of us at DNA Diagnostics Center. It underscores the importance and impact of the DNA testing we provide every day and reminds us that there is a precious human life attached to every specimen. We are so pleased to have been able to play a part in achieving justice and freedom for Mr. Bain.”

DDC’s Forensics Division serves as an independent DNA testing resource to defense lawyers and government prosecutors and works with many Innocence Projects across the country. Seth Miller, Director of the Innocence Project of Florida, commented, “We’ve worked with DNA Diagnostics Center on a number of cases now for over a year. Not only do their analysts do diligent work, but their customer service is top notch. There’s no other lab that we would have wanted to put this case in the hands of, especially with the age of the case and the type of sample that we had. We knew that DDC would take great care with it. We’re so thankful to DDC that they were able to help us find the truth and help with the release of Jamie Bain.”

Ohio’s Proposed DNA Law Changes

Friday, December 18th, 2009

This past June, Ohio Senator David Goodman, R-New Albany, sponsored Ohio Senate Bill 77 which proposed changes to laws governing retention of DNA evidence and procedures for suspect lineups. The bill passed the Senate by a 32-1 vote, and now the House is close to passing the bill, after nearly a dozen amendments were adopted by the House Criminal Justice Committee.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, opposition to the bill comes from law-enforcement groups and prosecutors who are concerned about the bill’s requirements and the costs to implement them. Specifically, the legislation would require law enforcement to retain biological evidence for up to 30 years in cases of murder and sexual assault. Suspect lineups would now be blind: the officer conducting the lineup would not know the identity of the true suspect, or the officer would conduct a photo-lineup so that only the witness can see the pictures. Other changes to the law would make DNA testing open to parolees and require anyone charged with a felony to submit a DNA sample.

John Murphy, executive director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, felt the amendments to the bill made “vast improvements.” A key change was giving law-enforcement agencies the ability to discard biological evidence after 5 years if a defendant pleads guilty or no contest.

“This is about not just being tough on crime, but being smart on crime,” said Mark Godsey, director of the Ohio Innocence Project. “These are recognized as best practices around the country, and Ohio hasn’t been doing them, by and large.”

If the bill passes after next week’s vote, Ohio residents can look forward to improved practices that should help assure justice.

Update: NY “near matches”

Monday, December 14th, 2009

Last week the New York State Commission on Forensic Science, which includes 12 representatives from law enforcement, criminal defense, the judiciary the NY State Dept of Health and forensic laboratories, approved modifications to DNA regulations to allow disclosure of “near matches” that are observed in NY’s databank searches. Under current regulations, when crime scene evidence is tested and a DNA sample is a close partial match to an individual’s profile in the database, the scientists are not permitted to report an inadvertent near hit that is observed.

Deputy Secretary for Public Safety Denise E. O’Donnell chairs the Commission of Forensic Science and stated, “The Commission has taken an important step to address the serious and valid concerns expressed by forensic scientists, who feared that they are currently placed in an untenable ethical bind: right now they have no authority to share information, discovered inadvertently, that may provide vital evidence in a criminal investigation. That is entirely unreasonable, and contrary to the concept of public interest, to ask our laboratories to withhold information that they know may be the key to stopping a serial rapist or murderer, or exonerating an innocent individual.”

While the proposed amendment is similar to statutes in California and Colorado which allows “familial searching,” or singling out particular families, NY’s regulation will only address the rare case where a routine search of the DNA database results in a near hit, which when used in as an investigative tool, could greatly limit the collection of potential suspects.

With a close eye on constitutional safeguards and accepted scientific procedures, the NY DNA Subcommittee must still review the implementation plan and submit final recommendations to the full Commission. The Governor’s Office of Regulatory Reform will make its publication and public comment. If adopted, the new regulations will assure that partial-match cases reviewed by the scientists on the DNA subcommittee adhere to the new standards.

New York currently collects DNA samples from only about 46% of people convicted of crimes. Governor Paterson has proposed an all-crimes DNA bill that would require anyone convicted of a penal law crime to provide a DNA sample.

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