As science and technology become more integrated with society, it seems inevitable that fictional crime dramas on television will eventually become reality. In these shows, many an accused are convicted on the basis of DNA evidence. What the dramas do not illustrate is that DNA evidence is not the be-all-end-all, and that its veracity can be contested and, in some cases, its applicability invalidated. Retaining the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney can be crucial to negating the effects of this evidence, by persuading the judge or jury that the evidence is false, unreliable, or the like. Recently, California authorities arrested a man on suspicion of being the Golden State Killer, a serial rapist-murderer from a decades-long cold case, based on “Family Tree Forensics” – comparing the DNA collected at the crime scenes with the DNA submitted by family members to various private laboratories, and developing an educated match to the individual who is ultimately accused of committing a crime.
Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA)
DNA is a molecule, present in every organism, which carries the unique genetic instructions used in the growth, development, functioning, and reproduction of that organism. Essentially, DNA is the ultimate fingerprint – identifying information which is unique to every individual. An individual’s DNA is inherent in every aspect of his/her being. Thus, when an individual is at a crime scene, even portions of his/her skin that naturally falls hold DNA information. Law enforcement uses collected DNA to compare it against known samples in the state and federal database.
California permits collection of DNA from the following individuals:
- Any adult arrested for a felony in California;
- Any juvenile convicted or adjudicated for a felony in California;
- Any individual convicted or adjudicated of a misdemeanor, if he/she has a prior felony in any state;
- Any individual in custody or on any supervised release after conviction for any California felony committed prior to November 3, 2004;
- Any individual currently on any supervised release for any offense, but having a prior felony in any state; and
- Any individual required to register as a sex or arson offender.
Challenging DNA Evidence
When done properly, DNA testing is incredibly accurate. This is because the only real possibility of two people sharing the same DNA is in the case of identical twins. However, to be done properly, collection of DNA evidence must be done under the proper circumstances, such as when one can obtain a large amount, when there is a clear chain of title, and when the processing laboratory is mistake-free. This happens, however, in only a few circumstances. In reality, DNA evidence will almost certainly have some degree of ambiguity, and, as a result, can be challenged on any number of factors including the following:
- Bad sampling. DNA is collected at the crime scene, which is not a clean environment, and can result in the contamination of DNA from other individuals. Further, some collections are less reliable than others, such as that from a door, which will almost certainly contain traces of many individuals.
- Improper lab procedures. Some crime laboratories handle many samples at one time. Accordingly, strict procedures are needed to prevent mistakes. However, mistakes do happen, and a DNA sample may be improperly stored, labeled, or analyzed. Additionally, the chain of title – a documentation of the DNA and its possessor every step of the way from collection to courtroom – may be incomplete.
- Travelling DNA. Even if a match occurs, it is not dispositive as to whether the accused individual was at the crime scene, as there is no known way to determine how DNA travels. Further, DNA can linger for months after an individual has visited a locale, further clouding the accuracy of the evidence.
Speak to a Criminal Defense Attorney
If you have been arrested on suspicion of committing a crime and DNA evidence will likely be used against you, contact the criminal defense attorneys at Manshoory Law Group, APC as soon as possible. Time is always of the essence in responding to criminal allegations, so it is crucial to avoid delays. The attorneys at our office have years of experience in criminal defense, and can use this to challenge any DNA evidence that the prosecution may intend to use against you. Contact the Los Angeles criminal defense firm today for an initial consultation.