The discovery of what is being called the “missing” knife from the O.J. Simpson trial has opened up a potential new investigation. It appears it will fall to further DNA testing to determine if the knife was indeed related to the 1994 murders.
The Missing Knife in the O.J. Simpson Trial
According to reports, the knife was found while crews were tearing down Simpson’s Brentwood estate. While preliminary review suggested that the weapon was unconnected to the murders of Simpson’s ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman, DNA testing will likely be key. A number of forensic tests are being done now.
According to Mark Fuhrman, the former LAPD officer that was heavily involved in the Simpson case, it should be simple to determine if the found knife was involved in the 1994 murders.
“It can only be a certain width, length and thickness, or it simply isn’t the weapon,” he said. “The autopsy results, especially on Ron Goldman, were very specific.”
DNA gathering and testing is an important tool to ensure the innocent remain free and the guilty are punished. With the increased use of DNA testing, which began in 1986, it has helped to determine the guilt or innocence of perpetrators in capital cases. As of September 2011 in the US, 273 people have been exonerated due to DNA testing, including 17 people on death row.
What is DNA
DNA is Deoxyribo Nucleic Acid, the essential building block of life that is part of every cell in every living organism. Commonly called the Double Helix, due to its structure, James Watson and Francis Crick are credited with decoding it and were awarded the Nobel Prize in physiology/medicine in 1962. It is often referred to as “the most important biological work of the last 100 years.” DNA is what enables an embryonic cell to become a living, functioning organism.
An important property of DNA is its uniqueness, like a cellular fingerprint. While human and animal DNA are remarkably similar, it’s unique to each individual. The exceptions are identical twins and bone marrow transplant recipients. An individual’s DNA remains unchanged during their life, and is a reliable identifier found in every cell.
DNA testing can be done on any biological specimen like skin, semen, saliva, hair, or blood. If the biological evidence is collected and preserved properly, kept free from contamination, and is analyzed correctly, it can help convict or exonerate a person charged with a capital crime. Under these conditions, DNA testing is more accurate than fingerprinting.
DNA and the Jury
In the US criminal justice system, juries are instructed to render a guilty verdict ONLY if no reasonable doubt exists. Whenever a conviction if overturned as a result of DNA evidence, one may assume that the jury had reasonable doubts but ignored them. If, due to their ignorance, an innocent person is sent to death row or must spend the rest of their life in prison, should the jurors be penalized? Perhaps knowing an innocent person has been convicted and put to death due to their actions is punishment enough.
Nationwide Exonerations Statistics Due to DNA Testing
Some statistics that were posted on February 7th, 2007, indicated there has been 329 exonerations given after convictions due to DNA testing in the United States.
- The first exoneration due to DNA testing was in 1989. Since 2000, 262 exonerations have been granted in 37 states.
- Of the 329 people exonerated due to DNA testing 20 served time on death row, and 16 others charged with capital crimes did not have a death sentence.
- The average time an exoneree served was 14 years. The total years served is approximately 4,505.
- The average age for an exoneree when they were wrongfully convicted was 26.5.
- The races for the 329 exonerees included 205 African Americans, 98 Caucasians, 24 Latinos, and 2 Asian Americans.
- Real suspects and/or perpetrators have been identified in 161 of the DNA exoneration cases.
- Tens of thousands of cases have been identified since 1989 where the prime suspect was pursued and identified before DNA testing proved they were wrongfully accused.
- In a National Institute of Justice study, over 25% of cases suspects were excluded after DNA testing was done as part of the criminal investigation (the 1995 study included over 10,000 cases where FBI labs perform the testing).
- The federal government, including the District of Columbia, and 30 states have passed laws compensating people who have been wrongfully incarcerated. So far 71% of DNA testing exonerees have been financial compensated. These awards vary from state to state.
- A review of closed cases from 2004 to 2010 by the Innocence Project revealed 22% of closed cases were because evidence had been lost or destroyed.
- Of the 329 DNA exonerations, the Innocence Project was involved in 176 of them. Others were assisted by Innocence Network organizations as well as private attorneys and pro se defendants.
- Of the DAN exonerees, 31 pleaded guilty to crimes that they didn’t commit.
Leading Causes for Wrongful Convictions
Exonerations due to DNA testing provides positive proof that wrongful convictions are neither rare nor isolated. Many times they are the result of systemic defects that can be specifically identified and address. The Innocence Project has worked for over 15 years to pinpoint and identify these trends. Wrongful convictions that have been overturned due to DNA testing involve multiple causes.
The leading cause of wrongful conviction is eyewitness misidentification testimony. In 72% of post-conviction DNA exoneration cases in the US it was the factor. A minimum of 40% of these involved cross racial identification. Currently race data is available only on the victim rather than for non-victim eyewitnesses.
It’s been shown in studies that people can’t easily recognize faces of different races from their own. Reforms based on this study have been embraced by leading criminal justice organizations and adopted in North Carolina and New Jersey, as well as large cities such as Seattle and Minneapolis. Many smaller jurisdictions have also adopted them.
A second cause is the invalidation or improper use of forensic science, which played a part in 47% of wrongful convictions which were later overturned due to DNA testing.
Although top academic centers developed DNA testing through extensive scientific research, there are numerous other forensic techniques that haven’t been subjected to the same scientific evaluation, such as hair microscopy, firearm tool mark analysis, bite mark comparisons, and comparisons of shoe prints. Other forensics techniques that are properly validated are sometime improperly conducted or inaccurately reported during testimony at trial, such as serology which is blood typing. Forensic scientists have engaged in misconduct in other cases of wrongful conviction cases.
Wrongful convictions in about 28% of cases are due to incriminating statements and false confessions. False confessions were the leading factor in 71 out of 113 homicide cases that were later exonerated due to DNA testing, 31 of which had pled guilty even though they had not committed the crime. In order to prevent coercion and keep an accurate record of any questioning, the Innocent Project encourages that an electronic record be created by police departments.
In 15% of cases wrongful convictions were due to testimony of informants. The Innocence Project recommends that when informant testimony is used that the judge should instruct the jury of the fact that most informant testimony is not reliable due to the fact that it was given in exchange for deals, special treatment, or even for dropping the charges against the informant. They also recommend that prosecutors reveal any incentives they’ve given the informant, as well as recording any and all communication occurring between the prosecutor and informant.
Wrongfully Accused of Committing Crime
If you’ve been wrongfully accused of a crime and would like to have it re-investigated, you need the expert advice and experience of a criminal defense lawyer such as Sevens Legal Criminal Lawyers. Contact Sevens Legal Criminal Lawyers, today for a free consultation.
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