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The Case Against DNA

Soulskill posted about a year and a half ago | from the everything-in-moderation dept.

Crime 166

Hugh Pickens writes "Thanks to fast-paced television crime shows such as CSI, we have come to regard DNA evidence as incontestable. But BBC reports that David Butler has every right to be cynical about the use of DNA evidence by the police. Butler spent eight months in prison, on remand, facing murder charges after his DNA was allegedly found on the victim. 'I think in the current climate [DNA] has made police lazy,' says Butler. 'It doesn't matter how many times someone like me writes to them, imploring they look at the evidence... they put every hope they had in the DNA result.' The police had accused Butler of murdering a woman, Anne Marie Foy, in 2005 — his DNA sample was on record after he had willingly given it to them as part of an investigation into a burglary at his mother's home some years earlier. But Butler has a rare skin condition, which means he sheds flakes of skin, leaving behind much larger traces of DNA than the average person. Butler worked as a taxi driver, and so it was possible for his DNA to be transferred from his taxi via money or another person, onto the murder victim. The case eventually went to trial and Butler was acquitted after CCTV evidence allegedly placing Butler in the area where the murder took place was disproved. Professor Allan Jamieson, head of the Glasgow-based Forensic Institute, has become a familiar thorn in the side of prosecutors seeking to rely on DNA evidence and has appeared as an expert witness for the defense in several important DNA-centered trials, most notably that of Sean Hoey, who was cleared of carrying out the 1998 Omagh bombing, which killed 29 people. Jamieson's main concern about the growing use of DNA in court cases is that a number of important factors — human error, contamination, simple accident — can suggest guilt where there is none. 'Does anyone realize how easy it is to leave a couple of cells of your DNA somewhere?' says Jamieson. 'You could shake my hand and I could put that hand down hundreds of miles away and leave your cells behind. In many cases, the question is not "Is it my DNA?", but 'How did it get there?"'"

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166 comments

no cell phone evidence? (1)

alen (225700) | about a year and a half ago | (#41191861)

everyone has one these days and your carrier knows where you are and keeps records. he must have had a really dumb lawyer not to subpoena these

Re:no cell phone evidence? (5, Insightful)

bigstrat2003 (1058574) | about a year and a half ago | (#41191937)

That would only prove where the phone was, not where the person was.

Re:no cell phone evidence? (5, Informative)

alen (225700) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192071)

this is england but here in the US you need beyond a reasonable doubt. the cops can check the phone for prints and there is a record of movement by tracking every tower it hits. combine with CCTV evidence of stores and other cameras along with credit card transactions it should be fairly easy to show where you were

i've been on a criminal case jury and we ruled not guilty in a half hour because the cops had a weak case

Re:no cell phone evidence? (4, Insightful)

bigstrat2003 (1058574) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192143)

I know the standard of proof is "beyond a reasonable doubt" here, but what I raised is a reasonable doubt. It's the owner's phone, so obviously it would have prints all over it. That doesn't really help. And it's trivial for any criminal with half a brain to simply leave their phone at home, so it's extremely reasonable to doubt the phone's location as proof of the owner's location.

The phone can be used as corroborating evidence to back up evidence that already shows the person was at home (or wherever), but it's useless by itself. And if you have the other evidence, you hardly need to know where the phone was. So in either case, the phone's location is kind of a moot point.

Re:no cell phone evidence? (1)

RobertLTux (260313) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192497)

Its a set of things that would be "proof"
1 the "suspects" own cell Phone
2 was in the right location
3 was IN USE
4 by somebody that sounds a whole lot like the "suspect"

otherwise yah its weak

Now DNA evidence should be considered on HOW LARGE a sample was found.

a flake of skin barely big enough to get a read on= weak
3 pints of Blood, chunk of ear./finger or a part of a tooth = Now we are talking

yeah this was dodgy.

Re:no cell phone evidence? (4, Informative)

Kijori (897770) | about a year and a half ago | (#41193443)

The "reasonable doubt" standard of proof applies only to the prosecution. The defence does not have to prove anything, either beyond reasonable doubt or to any standard of proof whatsoever. They merely have to raise enough evidence to prevent the prosecution from proving their case beyond reasonable doubt.
That being the case it's meaningless to talk about whether there is reasonable doubt as to whether the phone was in the owner's possession. That is simply never a relevant question. The question is whether, taking the case in its totality, the evidence is such that a jury could be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. If the evidence amounted to an inconclusive DNA match and phone records that did not place his phone at the place of the murder then the evidence would certainly not be sufficient. That is the case notwithstanding that none of the evidence is directly exculpatory.
(I'm not saying that that was the totality of the evidence in this case; in fact, given that he was denied bail for 8 months, I suspect that there was both more evidence and some history of criminality. That is simply speculation however.)

Re:no cell phone evidence? (1)

bigstrat2003 (1058574) | about a year and a half ago | (#41193543)

You're just playing with semantics. If you mentally rewrite what I said to be about how the cell phone does not raise a reasonable doubt, my point doesn't change at all. It's evidence that cannot be relied upon except in the presence of other evidence, and the presence of that other evidence would render the cell phone evidence needless.

Re:no cell phone evidence? (5, Interesting)

MachineShedFred (621896) | about a year and a half ago | (#41193005)

The police will try to send any kind of weak shit that they can to the district attorney, because they can then mark the case solved and blame the DA or the Grand Jury should they fail to indict. The police commanders are happy because they get the closed case stats, the prosecutors stay happy because they don't take weak shit cases to trial, so their conviction rate stays up.

Everyone else loses. The whole world shines shit and declares it to be gold.

Also, this doesn't sound like a failure of DNA, this sounds like a failure of the detectives to properly interpret trace evidence.

Re:no cell phone evidence? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41192565)

No, there are quite a few carriers that could care less about where you were. If you have a phone from Boost Mobile or MetroPCS, just to name 2, they don't track or keep records. You could be kidnapped in broad daylight with dozens of witnesses. These carriers will not track the location of your phone.

Re:no cell phone evidence? (1)

aix tom (902140) | about a year and a half ago | (#41193627)

These carriers will not track the location of your phone.

Then nobody will ever be able to call you on that phone. They *must* track where the phone is, so that they can connect the call to the right cell tower.

In the early ages of mobile (car) phones ( pre - 1990 completely analogue systems) you weren't tracked, but then the caller had to call the "area code" of the radio area he believed you were in.

I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch TV (4, Insightful)

eldavojohn (898314) | about a year and a half ago | (#41191885)

Thanks to fast-paced television crime shows such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, we have come to regard DNA evidence as uncontestable.

Why is an unrealistic American television show being referenced about a case in Liverpool by a UK news source? Is horrible American television that prevalent? I'm not seeing The Mighty Boosh referenced in The New York Times in regards to the legalization of marijuana. And who cares if a television show makes the public think DNA evidence is incontestable? That xenophobic vapid televisions series 24 appears to be proof positive justification for torture and Judge Dread style murder but that should not alter the way our courts rule.

The prosecution in Liverpool Crown Court has no other proof that ties Butler to the murder — showing just how much store they place in the science.

Okay, congratulations, that has to be the most jaw dropping thing I've read in quite sometime about justice in the UK. Are you serious? DNA should be used as one piece of a very large puzzle used to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that this person was present at some point in time. It is a flawed process and should be used as one piece of many pieces of evidence against someone. If you put that much weight on it, framing someone just became a one step process. Hopefully it will improve but just as hopefully it will always remain as one supporting piece of evidence requiring many other avenues of evidence before a conviction.

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (-1, Troll)

Hognoxious (631665) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192031)

Why is an unrealistic American television show being referenced about a case in Liverpool by a UK news source? Is horrible American television that prevalent?

Yes. CSI appears in a number of countries worldwide. I believe even Belgium have it.

I'm not seeing The Mighty Boosh referenced in The New York Times in regards to the legalization of marijuana.

It doesn't claim to be even remotely factual.

By "it" I mean TMB, though if the cap fits...

Judge Dread style murder

Death by dirty lyrics?

5/10. You can do better.

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (1)

eldavojohn (898314) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192171)

It doesn't claim to be even remotely factual.

And CSI does? Here's a proposed sentence for you: "Modern television like The Mighty Boosh has a lot of people thinking that smoking marijuana is spiritual, fun, cool and without any repercussion." It doesn't have to be factual for a news source to cite it as evidence of its influence on public perception.

By "it" I mean TMB, though if the cap fits...

Wow, I bet The New York Times is just seething after that burn. I'll get Will Shortz on the phone right now and see if he can write crosswords for a more reputable news source like The New York Post. I used The New York Times as an equivalently average news source for Americans as the Telegraph is for the UK. The New York Times is more than due for criticism but "you can do better" like getting some actual examples of them publishing lies.

5/10. You can do better.

Yeah well, you've marked me as a foe [slashdot.org] so don't expect me to care about your baseless rating system or even try to "do better" in whatever dimension you define as better.

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (5, Insightful)

IAmR007 (2539972) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192049)

Plus, if they had any idea as to how science works, they would know that one datum doesn't constitute reliable evidence at all. Even finding the same DNA in multiple locations doesn't rule out systematic contamination. Multiple types of evidence are needed to confirm causation with anything. It scares me that people's entire lives can depend on methods that would get any scientist laughed out of the room.

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (3, Insightful)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192555)

"It scares me that people's entire lives can depend on methods that would get any scientist laughed out of the room."

I have been saying this for years. It is ridiculously easy to contaminate or even plant DNA. Fingerprints are relatively hard to fake, and they don't "accidentally" move from place to place. However, DNA does accidentally move from place to place. Worse: drop a few skin scrapings or spit from someone in the right places, and watch the police foam at the mouth in rabid excitement.

It's worse than ridiculous. It's a tragedy that doesn't need to exist.

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (2)

zixxt (1547061) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192097)

FYI CSI is the most watched TV show in the world. And CSI and DNA go together like a horse and carriage.

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (3, Interesting)

SomePgmr (2021234) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192775)

I really dislike CSI for a long list of reasons, but I'll give the writers some credit here - at least the "omg we have the DNA's" is usually a setup for an interview (interrogation) where they use it as pressure and the murderer gives up everything when they realize they're caught. It's how they wrap up the crime story bit. There's also usually another element there, like "that gas station happened to have Las Vegas style, super high-res security cameras with $1,000 lenses, and you posed for them". You know, something to make it look like they're more than just semen collectors.

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (2)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192833)

The silly thing really... Crime scene analysts are just the forensics people. They shouldn't even be interviewing witnesses, or doing any non-forensics investigation at all. They aren't trained for it. They do the forensics, write the report, and the report goes off to the detectives.

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (3, Funny)

SomePgmr (2021234) | about a year and a half ago | (#41193011)

They do the forensics, write the report, and the report goes off to the detectives.

And they do it quite well considering they apparently work in the dark, but never spill any of those lab chemicals on their $700 pants. Consummate professionals, indeed!

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41193319)

Not to mention the constantly exploding glass walls. You would think they would have considered more shatterproof alternatives by now, they replace those things at least once every year.

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (1)

camperdave (969942) | about a year and a half ago | (#41193389)

Yeah. Why do they always investigate with flashlights? Make note of whether the light was on or off, then turn on the frelling lights so you can see.

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (5, Insightful)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192099)

DNA should be used as one piece of a very large puzzle used to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that this person was present at some point in time

Within some error margin, and that error margin is quite a bit higher than you might expect. If you do not exclude identical twins, even if there were no laboratory errors at all, the probability of finding two people with the same DNA profile would be 1 in 1000; when laboratory errors are included in the analysis, that probability can become high enough to pass the threshold of "reasonable doubt."

Even if we assume no lab errors, no identical twins, and no measurement errors, DNA evidence is still not sufficient. I could plant someone's DNA at a crime scene without too much difficulty (consider how many personal items in your bathroom will have testable DNA on them -- a razor, a toothbrush, a comb). There have been cases of criminals finding ways to substitute another person's DNA for their own, including one case of a doctor who actually managed to hide another person's blood in one of his veins, thus faking his innocence.

One data point is not enough to draw any sort of conclusion; it might point you in the right direction, but nothing more.

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (1)

evanbd (210358) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192569)

There have been cases of criminals finding ways to substitute another person's DNA for their own, including one case of a doctor who actually managed to hide another person's blood in one of his veins, thus faking his innocence.

Do you have a link for that? It sounds fascinating.

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (1)

hiryuu (125210) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192667)

Do you have a link for that? It sounds fascinating.

Seconded, as I'm curious. :)

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41192697)

Here. [wikipedia.org] He surgically implanted a vial of someone else's blood into his arm prior to taking the DNA test. He manipulated the collector to take it from his arm rather than the standard finger prick.

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41193031)

This all happened in Kipling, Saskatchewan, which is also the home of the world's largest red paperclip. Busy place!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_red_paperclip

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (1)

camperdave (969942) | about a year and a half ago | (#41193433)

...including one case of a doctor who actually managed to hide another person's blood in one of his veins, thus faking his innocence.

Sounds like one of the Founders/Changelings from Star Trek: Deep Space 9, back when they were infiltrating the Federation.

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (5, Insightful)

Desler (1608317) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192123)

Why is an unrealistic American television show being referenced about a case in Liverpool by a UK news source? Is horrible American television that prevalent?

Because you're being an intentionally obtuse pedant. First of all, the statement said 'shows like CSI' and if you think international crime shows don't use DNA evidence the same way you're quite naive. The specific show wasn't the point and the reason this is a problem is that popular culture shows has inflated DNA evidence as being some 100% accurate measure of guilt such that juries now will demand DNA evidence in order to even fathom the idea that the persn was guilty. Also, theynare easily misled by DNA evodence in wrongfully convicting people since they don't understand the probabilities or other curcumstances involved that could lead to the DNA being at the crime scene. Hell, The Independent in the UK wrote an article about juries being misled by DNA evidence back in 1994.

Also, yes, CSI has aired internationally for many years with the U.K. being one of those places. Many American shows air internationally. That this is somehow news to you is hilarious.

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41192225)

First of all, the statement said 'shows like CSI' and if you think international crime shows don't use DNA evidence the same way you're quite naive.

Then why not use said "international crime shows" like those in the UK with which its readership would be most familiar?

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (1)

Desler (1608317) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192287)

Bcause CSI is shown in the UK and in dozens of other countries so it's a convenient example that most people would have heard of. Midsomer Murders has used DNA evidence just as misleading as CSI but it eould have had less recognition than a show that is one of the highest rated and most watched shows worldwide.

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (0)

eldavojohn (898314) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192373)

Why is an unrealistic American television show being referenced about a case in Liverpool by a UK news source? Is horrible American television that prevalent?

Because you're being an intentionally obtuse pedant.

Thanks! I value your counterpoint and would like to propose a converse suggestion although unlike you I don't have to resort to name-calling in the process to get my point across. It is my suspicion that when something goes wrong the rest of the world likes to blame it on Americans -- even when it's more accurately an international blame. A great example of this is from your post:

First of all, the statement said 'shows like CSI' and if you think international crime shows don't use DNA evidence the same way you're quite naive.

So what you're saying is that all modern crime drama use DNA evidence ... but when those dramas are negatively influencing rational thought, it's those stupid Americans and their television that are causing Liverpudlian court cases to go awry. Yep, those Yanks sure are thick. And we are, but it does get tiresome when everything is our fault.

That this is somehow news to you is hilarious.

Well I'm glad you find such great humor in my lack of watching British television.

Also, theynare easily misled by DNA evodence

And now you know what I find hilarious.

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (2)

Desler (1608317) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192413)

No, no one is blaming Americans. CSI is just a convenient example considering it's the most watched show internationally. Stop being such a pedant about that specific sentence. They could have said 'Shows like Midsomer Murders' but do you think more or less people would have heard of that versus CSI? Even people who don't watch CSI can tell tou what it is whereas the other would get you mostly blank stares.

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41192499)

Stop being such a pedant about that specific sentence.

Couldn't the same be said of you concentrating on the OP's brief bewilderment of CSI's worldwide influence?

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (1)

element-o.p. (939033) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192771)

So what you're saying is that all modern crime drama use DNA evidence ... but when those dramas are negatively influencing rational thought, it's those stupid Americans and their television that are causing Liverpudlian court cases to go awry. Yep, those Yanks sure are thick. And we are, but it does get tiresome when everything is our fault.

Dude, chill :) I'm a Yank too, but I didn't get that out of TFS* or anyone else's posts here. There is a difference between what is implied, and what is inferred. I think you have *inferred* far more than the author intended.

* in true /. tradition, I didn't RTFA, so if TFA more explicitly blames Americans, then I respectfully withdraw my comment.

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (3, Insightful)

reub2000 (705806) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192507)

Okay, from watching crime shows, I've seen a plenty of episodes where DNA evidence is left by a person who turns out to not be the killer. These shows like to play fast and loose with forensic technology, but if the crime could be solved instantly using some magical technology like DNA how would the script writers fill up a 40 minute show? In fact one episode of Lie To Me centered around the main character leaving DNA on the victim. Are people really getting that DNA evidence proves guilt from TV shows?

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (2)

Desler (1608317) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192553)

Yes. Pop culture has been shown to have had a huge effect on how juries view DNA evidence or its lack thereof in a case. It's pretty well documented at this point.

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (1)

reub2000 (705806) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192583)

No, that's not what I'm asking. I'm asking if crime shows really do show DNA evidence as infallible.

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (1)

Desler (1608317) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192643)

Not outright, but when shows like CSI will often wrap up at the point of finding DNA evidence and having the police arresting the suspect the audience never really gets exposed to the other side of things. Thus, they are left with an inaccurate perception whether or not it was intentional on the part of the show writers versus just being a convenient way to wrap up.

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (1)

camperdave (969942) | about a year and a half ago | (#41193565)

There have been a number of episodes where they show DNA evidence as fallible. I recall one episode where the suspect was a chimera ( two eggs fertilized by two separate sperm that normally would have developed into fraternal twins, but somehow they merged into a single embryo, and thus into a single person). The suspect knew he had two sets of DNA, and used that knowledge to spoof the tests.

There was another episode where they had searched for fingerprints on a matchbook (using a dye that would attach to the DNA fragments in the oils) and they didn't find anything. So they were in court with the wrong suspect. Turns out that by the time the case had come to trial, the oils had broken down and they now revealed a fingerprint that wasn't there during the initial analysis. They had to throw out the case.

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41193587)

There was also an episode where somebody had collected cigarette butts from an ash tray and had placed one or two at a crime scene, thus directing the investigation away from himself.

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (1)

hilltaker7 (2718495) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192173)

I think, what it comes down to, is that what every prosecutor, lawyer, solicitor, etc... wants are winnable cases. Unfortunately, due to shows such as CSI, many members of the public honestly believe that DNA evidence is fool-proof. While this is certainly not the truth; law professionals are more then willing to run with no other evidence because they can win those cases. So, until the general public get's inclined to increase their level of knowledge in this area (so not likely) more innocent people will be put behind bars due to lazy bureaucrats.

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (2)

Desler (1608317) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192219)

Prosecutors themselves tend to be at fault for this, too. They will eiteher highly downplay the probabilities part or will outright not mention that DNA matching is not exact. Pop culture is surely a big part of the claim but its abuse by police and prosecutors should not be understated.

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (1)

reub2000 (705806) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192351)

Isn't it the job of the lawyer working for the defense to point out flaws in the argument made by the prosecutor?

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (1)

Desler (1608317) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192437)

Yes, but many on a jury are still more likely to be swayed by the prosecution if they have DNA evidence on their side versus some defense expert throwing probabilities and other things at them that goes over most people's heads. It's an unfortunate reality.

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (1)

hilltaker7 (2718495) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192455)

Certainly, but when the public has been fully indoctrinated into the Hollywood church of DNA, often no amount of reason can fully persuade them to question their faith.

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (1)

gewalker (57809) | about a year and a half ago | (#41193155)

And this is why if you have been seated for a jury in recent history you very likely were briefed that real-life is not like Hollywood. The cops do not always collect finger print , DNA, or video evidence of the crime. And that you should not acquit using "reasonable doubt" just because these "iron-clad" evidences are missing -- They are not "iron-clad" when present and not evidence of "innocence" when missing.

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (1)

fiannaFailMan (702447) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192185)

Why is an unrealistic American television show being referenced about a case in Liverpool by a UK news source?

American TV shows are hugely popular in the UK. British shows don't travel across the Atlantic so well, so their comedy often has to be translated into an American version where the jokes are spelled out more explicitly to fit with American humour. Hence American versions of British shows strike the British audience as not being funny.

I digress.

I agree that CSI is unrealistic. I watched it once and thought it was badly written and badly acted sci-fi. They show technology that clearly does not exist. Their depiction of the Irish sport of Hurling and the Indian Holi festival were positively cringeworthy, and the storyline was where they solved the most unlikely coincidental killing ever.

There were reports on /. about the "CSI effect" before, where juries are having their judgement skewed by the unrealistic expectations raised by shows like CSI. A lot of "traditional" evidence like eyewitness accounts are being disregarded by juries and potential perps are being released because juries are expecting impossibly high standards of proof using DNA evidence when there is plenty of sufficient non-forensic evidence that is just as admissible.

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (1)

Desler (1608317) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192255)

Juries were be misled by the supposed infallibility of DNA evidence long before shows like CSI existed, though shows like CSI have definitely only served to make things worse.

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (2)

tibit (1762298) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192607)

Eyewitness accounts are yes, traditional, and about just as bad/good as DNA is. They can't stand on their own. Eyewitnesses routinely lie, and not necessarily because they intend to, but because people are horrible at accurate recall. We imagine we're much better than we really are. Think about it like this: you supposedly remember down to the last detail what happened at some time and place. Yet, how easy it is for most of us to learn at school? Do you read a book once and go to the exam with total recall (where recall is called for, vs. analytic skills)? Then why the heck do we expect mostly uninterested parties to offer what amounts to total recall of stuff they witnessed?

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (1)

Desler (1608317) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192707)

Which is why juries should be far more skeptical than they are of evidence offered by the prosecution in light of the numerous documented cases of wrongful conviction that has stolen countless years from people and in some cases their life. Too many people view their job on a jury in a criminal case as being nothing more than to get a conviction in. This is not to say they should just believe anything the defense says, but one side has a much larger amount of power that can potentially ruin innocent lives versus the other.

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (1, Informative)

interval1066 (668936) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192931)

British shows don't travel across the Atlantic so well, so their comedy often has to be translated into an American version where the jokes are spelled out more explicitly to fit with American humour.

You sound like an American tv producer, not an American. Me and most of my friends prefer Britcoms to Sitcoms; example, the Office. British version far superior in every way. So stick your "American humour" up you know where.

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (1)

garyoa1 (2067072) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192353)

Weill I like CSI. But if you watch closely you'll realize that it's essentially a sci-fi show. Most folks miss that and take it for text book fact. We aren't even really close to the "technology" they use.
If you think it's factual... well, I've got this bridge to sell you... ;)

Only because other evidence was ruled out (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41192397)

CCTV evidence of her getting into his Taxi was ruled inadmissable and another prostitute was deemed an unreliable witness.

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (1)

element-o.p. (939033) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192687)

Why is an unrealistic American television show being referenced about a case in Liverpool by a UK news source?...It is a flawed process and should be used as one piece of many pieces of evidence against someone. If you put that much weight on it, framing someone just became a one step process. Hopefully it will improve but just as hopefully it will always remain as one supporting piece of evidence requiring many other avenues of evidence before a conviction.

I think you answered your own question there. What I got from TFS was that despite the fact that DNA evidence "...is a flawed process..." the public's perception (which is due, in no small part, to television shows like CSI) is that it is infallible evidence. "Oh, you're DNA was present on the victim? Done deal, you're guilty."

Unfortunately, AFAIK, DNA evidence isn't a digital (i.e., yes or no) proposition, it's a matter of probability: the answer is "there is a xx% chance that this DNA belongs to the accused," where "xx" is some number less than 100. However, as long as the people on the jury believe what they see on TV, they put undue faith in DNA evidence. When the cops show up with an expert in tow saying that, in his (or her) professional opinion, there is indeed a match between the accused's DNA and the DNA found on the victim, the tendency among the CSI-brainwashed public is to automatically jump to the conclusion that the accused is guilty, ignoring all of the evidence suggesting otherwise, and neglecting to consider the possible, plausible ways in which it could have gotten there *without* the accused having committed the crime. Your exactly right -- that isn't the way it's supposed to work, and that's the point this article is bringing up.

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (1)

nedlohs (1335013) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192863)

Why is an unrealistic American television show being referenced about a case in Liverpool by a UK news source?

Bacause most jurors do watch TV, that you don't is irrelevant. CSI is the defining show of that genre - you may notice the phrase "show such as CSI" was used not only CSI. Even jurors who don't watch such TV shows likely read a newspaper or watch news written by people who have watched said shows and that portray DNA evidence as a slam-dunk.

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41193071)

Not me. Put me on a jury and someone on the prosecution says DNA evidence, expect me to roll my eyes and even say oh sci-fi out loud.

Re:I Guess This Is What Happens When I Don't Watch (1)

MachineShedFred (621896) | about a year and a half ago | (#41193029)

I guess I'm wondering why they are down on DNA matching, when it did exactly what it's supposed to. This was a failure to either interpret the results of the test, as you suggest; or a failure to interpret the trace evidence that called for the DNA match to begin with.

Obligatory wank joke (4, Funny)

Hognoxious (631665) | about a year and a half ago | (#41191897)

'Does anyone realize how easy it is to leave a couple of cells of your DNA somewhere?' says Jamieson. 'You could shake my hand

Indeed, rapid hand movements are a sure fire way of spraying DNA around.

The Truth About DNA (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41191955)

I'm leaving my DNA up your sister's snatch RIGHT NOW...

Butler eh? (4, Funny)

tsa (15680) | about a year and a half ago | (#41191973)

Everybody knows the butler always did it!

Re:Butler eh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41192197)

The butler (and his accomplice the maid, and their acquaintance the nanny) also has easy access to multiple sources of DNA.

But then so does the TSA. No?

Blood Lies (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41191989)

Reminds me of a book I read, "Blood Lies". Very interesting yet DNA-centric plot.

http://www.amazon.com/Blood-Lies-Daniel-Kalla/dp/0765318326

Phantom of Heilbronn (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41191995)

Contaminated DNA samples can even lead to imaginary super criminals:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phantom_of_Heilbronn

Error rates (2)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | about a year and a half ago | (#41191999)

It is not like DNA matching is as exact as solving a math problem. There is experimental error, and the error rates are sufficiently high that DNA evidence should never be considered enough to convict someone; DNA evidence with additional supporting evidence should be the minimum standard.

Re:Error rates (-1, Troll)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192073)

The bigger problem is they can look into the DNA to see if you have the gay DNA.

Re:Error rates (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41192703)

Afraid you will be thrown out of the GOP and forced into the Log Cabin?

That log cabin is getting pretty full, you might just have yourself a fun time, but remember to hate yourself for it later.

Leave DNA samples (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41192001)

As part of my master criminal plan, I leave DNA samples at all my local churches. So if I were to get caught (unlikely since I'm a criminal Mastermime), I can always - with great smugness - point to a church and say in front of a jury, "There's my DNA at church! How can I have DNA at the crime scene and at church AT THE SAME TIME!"

Now since the jury is made up of the general public who live on a diet of 6+ hours of TV per day, I can guaranty that they'll all shake their heads in agreement and think, "Yep! Makes perfect sense!" and acquit me.

Anyway, it's time to leave a fresh DNA sample at my local Catholic Church - oh those sexy sexy nuns! Ooooooooooo! Aaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhh!

That's why... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41192027)

I walk around everywhere completely covered in saran wrap.

Wait...what? (1)

KrazyDave (2559307) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192037)

",,,evidence allegedly placing Butler in the area where the murder took place was disproved." So the Butler *didn't* do it this time?

Because CSI is real (1)

overmoderated (2703703) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192041)

NOT

Re:Because CSI is real (1)

Desler (1608317) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192181)

Yes, but it's not just CSI that has played up the whole DNA evidence angle. It pops up in movies, other television shows, mystery novels, etc. Only focusing on the 'shows like CSI' is missing the point and shows ounare just being an obtuse pedant.

Willful Frame Jobs (3, Insightful)

ThatsNotPudding (1045640) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192075)

That is what is so terrifying about the police having DNA samples on hand apriori: NO MORE UNSOLVED CASES!! Contaminate the evidence with someone's DNA you already have on hand (if you don't like them for racial, political, or personal reasons, that's just gravy), and bingo! Instant conviction by idiot juries who can't spell GUILTY without using the letters D, N, and A.

Re:Willful Frame Jobs (2)

DesScorp (410532) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192369)

That is what is so terrifying about the police having DNA samples on hand apriori: NO MORE UNSOLVED CASES!! Contaminate the evidence with someone's DNA you already have on hand (if you don't like them for racial, political, or personal reasons, that's just gravy), and bingo! Instant conviction by idiot juries who can't spell GUILTY without using the letters D, N, and A.

Also, isn't casting doubt on DNA based evidence also a double edged sword? You've got groups like the Innocence Project that rely almost entirely on DNA as a means of proving their client's innocence. If you can cast doubt on DNA evidence when trying to convict someone, you can also cast doubt on that evidence when trying to prove someone innocent.

Re:Willful Frame Jobs (1)

Desler (1608317) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192571)

Sure, if the standpoint was that all DNA evidence was faulty and wrong, but that isn't the point. Is is merely about how people should be more skeptical and questioning of DNA evidence validity on convicting someone. It's not saying DNA evidence should never be used or accepted.

Re:Willful Frame Jobs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41192933)

You miss the point.

DNA evidence is such an interpretive human error prone procedure. However, guilt must be a 100% match while innocence is any mismatch whatsoever.

But for the most part, DNA evidence is proving itself to be junk science.

Re:Willful Frame Jobs (4, Informative)

IndustrialComplex (975015) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192943)

Not really. The perfect DNA test returns a result of a comparison between Sample A, and Sample B. The results are either 'MATCH, NO MATCH, or inconclusive'.

The problem is that people are basically adding meta-data to the Yes/No/error results. A confirmation a match is nothing more than a confirmation of a match, it doesn't tell you a single thing more than that. It doesn't even tell you that the person producing that DNA was there. Additional evidence is necessary in order to draw that conclusion.

However, this is NOT a problem with the traditional exculpatory DNA evidence. The casting of doubt is on the meta-results of the DNA, not the match/mismatch itself.

Thus, with exculpatory DNA evidence, the defence isn't trying to prove that the Defendant was in any particular location, all they are trying to prove is that DNA sample A does/doesn't match DNA sample B.

If you have a DNA sample from a crime scene, and I'm trying to show that such a sample does not match my client, it doesn't matter if my client was in the room, out of the room, or 3,000 miles away. If the DNA doesn't match, then the DNA doesn't match. I'm not trying to prove anything more than that.

It is the prosecution that is trying to add that extra data to the DNA, not the defense. The prosecutor has to first show that the DNA matches, THEN the prosecutor must also present evidence that the DNA could only be where it was because the defendant put it there.

Again, the DNA becomes a non-issue (for the purposes of identifying the defendent) for the defence the instant it doesn't match the defendent (in general)

Re:Willful Frame Jobs (1)

misexistentialist (1537887) | about a year and a half ago | (#41193095)

The prosecution must present certain proof, while the defense just has to come up with reasonable doubt. Of course the government tilts the scales back in its favor, so DNA would probably never be admissible if prosecutors couldn't use it.

District Attornies (1)

ThatsNotPudding (1045640) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192169)

Virtually all of them aspire to high political office, thus they are hard-core 'Law and Order' a-holes and more than willing to ingore or suppress evidence or scene DNA contamination.

Look at their behaviour when DNA is not on their side; older cases where no DNA of the suspect is found. They always say the same thing: no, we got the right man; he was just more careful than his 'unindicted co-conspiritor'...

Scumbags.

Re:District Attornies (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41192993)

So I propose a law. If it's found that the prosecution suppressed evidence, then they must serve the maximum sentence for the charges brought forward against the defendant if they would have been found guilty.

That would make things really interesting if and when prosecution members were sent to life in prison or sent off to death row if they suppressed evidence and were found out, assuming such a law was actually in effect. Or even if they had to serve 25 to life for suppressing evidence.

Unreasonable doubt (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41192209)

The big problem here is the wild and wacky lies told by defence lawyers clouding the issue for juries too dim to exercise occams razor. DNA don't lie.

Depends... (1)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192299)

Does anyone realize how easy it is to leave a couple of cells of your DNA somewhere?

... on the quality of the bar, day of the week, and hour of the night.

[ Sorry, I forgot this is /. ... ]

Tell Todd Akin (1)

erikwestlund (1003368) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192387)

I'm told that police have a way of "shutting the whole thing down" in the case of illegitimate DNA transfer.

The system is broken! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41192399)

Get rid of the justice system altogether!

I'm obviously kidding, but some nutcases that lurk around here would love to see that happen.

Fact: Fingerprints are more reliable than DNA (1)

gurps_npc (621217) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192449)

Yes, believe it or not, fingerprints are far more reliable than DNA.

1) It is much harder to move a fingerprint to frame someone. Yes, you could unscrew a light switch from your framing target, and trade it with the dead guys, but that can be detected fairly easy. You can on the other hand, grab a hairbrush from a framing victim and remove some hairs and leave it at the dead guy's body. Not to mention that it is incredibly easy to copy DNA - that's what makes it the stuff of light..

2) Some people have the same DNA as other people (Twin) and some people have 2+ DNA in their own body (Chimera). There has not been a known case of two people having the same fingerprint and no finger can have more than one fingerprint.

3) They do a full scan of your fingerprints. The police only examine a tiny sub-section of your DNA. When they don't get the full fingerprint, they call it a "partial". All DNA is 'partial', but they don't tell the jury that - they imply that they test it all.

So yes, DNA is not perfect.

Re:Fact: Fingerprints are more reliable than DNA (3, Informative)

Hatta (162192) | about a year and a half ago | (#41193063)

Yes, believe it or not, fingerprints are far more reliable than DNA.

Except that no one has actually done the population level research needed in order to prove that fingerprints are unique, and two different finger print analysts are very likely to come up with different analyses of the same print.

There has not been a known case of two people having the same fingerprint

Which is irrelevant if different fingerprint analysts cannot reliably score the same fingerprints the same way.

Who controls the DNA? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41192489)

Simple.

1) Get a group.

2) Kidnap someone.

3) Drug them.

4) Torture and take DNA.

5) Get them to the ER.

6) Replace them in the hospital room.

7) Commit crimes and get away by leaving their DNA.

Elementary (2)

gmuslera (3436) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192529)

Sounds ironic that the country from where born Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie and a lot others take out deduction and just focus in what would do an US tv show in that case with a very partial evidence.

Learn please (2, Insightful)

Yakasha (42321) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192597)

"Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law."

These are not magic words. It is a statement of fact. The emphasis I've added is what is important to you (IANAL, but nobody needs to be to understand the basics).
There are only a couple, very easy to remember, things that should come out of your mouth when talking to law enforcement of any kind if you want to avoid being detained for 8 months for something you didn't do:

1. Name, Date of Birth, address of residence.

2. Am I being detained / Am I free to go?

3. I cannot speak to you without my lawyer present.

That. Is. It.

Don't be a jerk to cops, but do not offer information. Even if they ask nicely.

Re:Learn please (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192961)

Well said.

Further resources regarding the proper way to handle yourself when confronted by police can be found here [youtube.com]

Re:Learn please (4, Informative)

nedlohs (1335013) | about a year and a half ago | (#41193061)

That's the US though, the UK has a different statement of fact: "it may harm your defence if you fail to mention when questioned something you later rely on in court"

Not just DNA (1)

PeanutButterBreath (1224570) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192865)

Interesting to note that both DNA and CCTV evidence were unreliable in this case. If neither of those two are reliable, and they can both be wrong in the same case, and I suspect that most would agree that these should be expected to be more reliable than eye-witness and circumstantial evidence, one has to ask some profound questions about the modern systems of criminal justice.

Open up the quality control steps (1)

awilden (110846) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192923)

One thing that's horribly misleading is when prosecutors say "the likelihood of this match occurring at random is one in a quadrillion" or similar. If there aren't a quadrillion people on the planet, that statement means nothing. Also it's based on a lot of independence assumptions that may or not pan out. The irony is that the answer is out there - with all of the DNA database information that's been compiled by different law enforcement agencies, there is the ability to actually go and test to see whether there are duplicates out there, what the sharing rate is between siblings, twins and parent/children, and so on, so that you can get real measurements instead of probabilistic arguments. If current tests turn out to uniquely identify subjects, the jury should hear "this DNA uniquely identifies this person as its source".

But then as the article points out you also need to turn to the quality control aspect. Identify the potential sources of contamination, quantify those sources through experimental means. Currently agencies do not do blind tests to see what the error rate is in labs. Crime labs should be tested in blind situations to see what their quality rate is. Then you can bring out during the trial "this lab has successfully passed 100 QC tests in the last 2 years and has never failed one" or "this lab failed 2 QC tests out of 100, but the person who failed both has been discharged" or any other information that allows jurors to assess what the error rate is in the other steps in the process. Similarly, success rates are dependent on the size of the sample; if you start from 8 strands of DNA how much does your result degrade when compared with a cheek swab? We just don't have those numbers now, and there's no reason we don't.

DNA is an amazing tool in the crime database. It solves crimes that have not been solved and helps put bad guys behind bars who would have gotten away. But it is not magic or infallible. Quantifying the sources of error and presenting them during trial is the right thing to do.

not even real DNA comparisons (2)

frovingslosh (582462) | about a year and a half ago | (#41192963)

"The police are getting lazy" is a gross understatement. When they "compare" DNA samples, they don't sequence each sample and do a complete match on the resulting sequences. Rather they do a crude comparison with techniques like gel electrophoresis and say "we think they match". While such a test might be good enough to rule out a non-match, it would be like saying "the shadow of the suspect (or at least a shadow we saw somewhere nearby) looks something like yours, so we are declaring you guilty".

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