A person does not have to search too hard to find examples of individuals spending years in prison because of a false identification or coerced confession. This harsh reality underscores the need to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney at the outset of any criminal investigation or case so important details are not missed and potentially exonerating evidence lost. The State of California and the city of Los Angeles recently paid a man a combined $18.4 million for the 34 years he spent in prison for murder because the prosecution failed to turn over evidence that could have exonerated him. In many of these wrongful conviction cases, DNA evidence, a form of forensic evidence, is used to prove their innocence. Forensic evidence is also frequently used by the prosecution in criminal trials to connect the defendant to the alleged offense, and can range from fingerprint identification to bullet fragment analysis. Many people, judges included, assume this type of evidence is always accurate because it is presented as solidly scientific, but the validity of forensic evidence has come under attack in recent years. Consequently, if police tell a suspect they have forensic evidence against him/her, the person should not automatically give up and assume a conviction is a foregone conclusion. Challenging the validity of forensic evidence in criminal trials will be explored below.
DNA is often hailed as the benchmark of forensic science, and in fact, it is the most reliable type of forensic evidence in use. However, even this type of forensic evidence is not always accurate because it is easy to mishandle the sample and skew the results. There are generally two phases in a criminal investigation during which the failure to follow the proper procedure could threaten the accuracy of DNA results – collection and testing. DNA analysis is a delicate procedure, and the material used to test for DNA must be protected from exposure to contamination from other people at the point of collection and at the lab, though contamination can happen at other points as well. Further, samples can be switched or mixed with others, which also invalidates the results. Protocols are in place that regulate how DNA samples used in criminal cases must be handled, and violations of these rules can lead to the exclusion of DNA results as evidence if the lab’s findings would be too unreliable.
Fingerprints were one of the first techniques developed by law enforcement to help identify suspects, but studies have shown that identifications of unknown prints are highly prone to error. Additionally, fingerprint collection has similar dangers of mishandling during collection or cataloguing as DNA evidence. Specifically, errors can occur in the collection process if the prints are lifted improperly, leading to contamination with other prints by law enforcement. Further, problems can arise during the identification process due to lax protocols or poorly-trained examiners. An experienced criminal defense attorney will be able to identify these issues, and effectively use them to defend the innocence of his/her client.
Finally, if an alleged crime involves the use of a gun, an expert is likely to appear at trial to testify about the link of bullets found at the crime scene with a particular gun and the presence of gunshot residue. Having residue on one’s clothes does not mean the accused was the shooter. Further, the association of bullets to a specific gun, through marks imprinted on a bullet as it leaves the firing chamber, is also subject to false positives, and does not definitively establish who fired it. The defense can use its own independent lab to test this evidence to ensure the mere presence of a gun does not lead to a conviction if science cannot back it up.
Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney
Being charged with a crime is an overwhelming situation, but if you hire the right criminal defense attorney, the criminal justice system can suddenly seem much less daunting. Los Angeles’ Manshoory Law Group, APC handles all criminal charges with the utmost seriousness and close attention to detail to help clients get the best possible outcome. Attorneys are available 24/7 to take your call. Contact us now for a free consultation.