DNA evidence has freed innocent men. Could it also be putting some behind bars?
That’s the troubling question raised by so-called “Arizona searches” of state DNA databases, so named for the Arizona crime lab analyst who has discovered startling similarities in the genetic profiles of unrelated felons.
FBI officials argue the research is misleading. When law enforcement goes looking for a DNA match, it constrains its search to a specific profile – thereby eliminating room, or at least much of it, for false matches.
Say the FBI is right. There’s still a snag big enough to unravel all but the strongest criminal cases. It’s called reasonable doubt, and word that DNA evidence is not infallible could certainly qualify.
Law enforcement should be taking the lead in clearing up questions about the accuracy of DNA matches. Instead, the FBI is encouraging states to stonewall the scientists and legal experts who want to test the accuracy of statistics using some of the nearly 6 million profiles in the national DNA database. That will only backfire.
More important, it is a disservice to the interests of justice. If this nation has learned anything as it has watched the wrongly convicted walk out of prison after wasted years, it should be to constantly challenge what is assumed to be open and shut cases.