Las Vegas Sun

October 22, 2017

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Sun editorial:

Justice and DNA tests

Study shows prosecutors often oppose tests, even though justice might hinge on them

A University of Virginia professor recently studied 225 court cases in which the primary suspect was exonerated through DNA testing. He found that prosecutors in nearly 20 percent of the cases had opposed the testing.

Also revealed was that prosecutors had initially opposed the testing in many other cases before eventually relenting.

The New York Times, writing about the study this week, reported that in 98 of the 225 cases studied, the DNA tests identified the real culprit.

Given the accuracy of today’s DNA tests, and the increased speed with which they can be conducted, the question is why prosecutors so often reflexively protest when defendants or their attorneys request this procedure.

The Times cited a case in which a Pennsylvania district attorney opposed DNA testing for a defendant because of overwhelming evidence presented at trial, including the testimony of four witnesses.

Yet the Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization based in New York that assists inmates who are trying to prove their innocence through DNA testing, says on its Web page: “Eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide.”

In the United States 238 people have been exonerated after their convictions through DNA testing, the organization says. Yet the Times reported that prosecutors in Illinois, opposed to testing a man convicted of murder when he was 14, argued that the jury was convinced of his guilt and that DNA exonerations so far have been “statistically insignificant.”

Tell that to the people who have been exonerated after their convictions, including 17 who had been sentenced to death.

Trial by jury is the best system ever devised for deciding a person’s guilt or innocence, but it is not infallible, as proven by DNA testing. Our view is that the University of Virginia professor’s study shows that DNA testing is opposed by prosecutors far too frequently.

Justice would be better served if the court system, including prosecutors, viewed DNA testing as routine in cases of serious crimes if samples are available.

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