If you are a podcast listener and interested in true crime stories from around the country, you may have already heard about Up And Vanished.
This podcast by Atlanta filmmaker Payne Lindsey is about the 2005 disappearance of teacher Tara Grinstead. It is an exploration of a mystery and the unexpected way the truth unfolded in 2017. In addition, it is a detailed look into the intricacies of our judicial system. Specifically, how a case is prosecuted and defended from beginning to end.
We will be hearing more from Up And Vanished as the case in question goes to court this year.
One of the most interesting looks into one of the biggest problems in our law enforcement system centers on the collection of a DNA sample. DNA collected from a glove in the victim’s yard has puzzled law enforcement officers in the case for years. In fact, because it is an ongoing investigation, details of the case aren’t public record yet.
Lindsey interviews a forensic DNA specialist to get an idea of what goes into the collection and testing of DNA samples. However, an article in the Atlantic sheds light on the many problems with this method of testing – or relying on it solve a crime and convict a perpetrator.
DNA Collection and Evidence
Here are some reasons why DNA evidence can be unreliable.
- DNA evidence doesn’t always pass the Frye Test. It is a legal standard is requiring all scientific evidence to be accepted in its field by most or all leading scientists. This is what invalidated the DNA link between OJ Simpson and the crimes for which he was acquitted.
- Much DNA evidence is mixed with other DNA profiles when a sample is collected. This includes the DNA of the victim his or herself. It requires lab technicians to use very subjective means to match a sample with that of a suspect. This is especially the case if the sample sizes are small or degraded.
- The power of DNA to solve a crime has become exaggerated in the minds of the general public – who are all potential jurors. Juries expect DNA evidence to automatically lead to a conviction based on what they have seen on TV shows like CSI. This has actually come to be known as the “CSI effect.” It’s getting worse. With advances in the science, more emphasis is being placed on less and less actual evidence.
- There is another troubling problem with DNA. The private detective who collaborated in season 1 of Up And Vanished observed it. The problem is that it makes law enforcement lazy. Once even trace evidence is collected, detectives often do not work a case in the traditional manner. They rely on the CODIS database to find their suspects rather than using to corroborate potential suspects found by other means.
A New Trend
- A new trend is described in The Atlantic. This “probabilistic genotyping programs” started by tech firms have created what may be considered to be legal concerns. Designed to take the human failure rate out of the lab testing procedures by allowing computers to compare samples with complex algorithms, matches have been made more accurate. However, these companies refuse to show their algorithms (as proprietary information). Additionally, some judges still rule the evidence admissible nevertheless.
There is a bright spot. OJ Simpson’s “dream team” members Berry Scheck and Peter Neufeld founded the Innocence Project in 1992 when DNA testing was just beginning to be used in court cases. Because of their familiarity with this, and their conviction that it could expose the racism inherent in our criminal justice system, they have won 178 exonerations using DNA testing. Additionally, the majority of the wrongfully convicted people were black.
DNA testing does have its advantages and has helped law enforcement solve crimes. There are enough drawbacks and problems with it that we will continue to fight its use in your trial.
If you are facing charges related to controversial DNA collection and evidence against you, don’t be intimidated. There is hope. Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. Call my office today.