An Alabama man is facing allegations that he kidnapped and raped a woman at gun point nearly 20 years ago.
Birmingham sex crimes defense lawyers know that with the advancements in DNA and the expanded use of the CODIS system, such cases are becoming more and more common. However, they are by no means open-and-shut.
In fact, there are a lot of prosecutorial issues with cases that are filed many years after the actual crime, and there are a number of ways defense attorneys can block a lot of this evidence from ever being heard by a jury.
First of all, it’s important to note that DNA – or any other scientific evidence presented by the state, is not full-proof, particularly in older cases. This is because in order to preserve the integrity of the sample, it has to be stored in a very specific manner. It has to be protected from outside contamination. It can’t be damaged from previous testing.
A good example of this was published a couple years ago in Washington Monthly, in which a man was convicted in 2008 for a brutal rape and murder that occurred back in 1972. The problem was the sample was so thoroughly degraded and contaminated with the DNA of others, it couldn’t actually produce an accurate result. But that didn’t stop prosecutors from using it – and landing a conviction.
Plus, the method of testing can be called into question. DNA can be a wonderful thing – in fact, it has exonerated countless individuals who were serving life sentences for crimes they didn’t commit. However, it is too often used or interpreted incorrectly.
The CODIS system, or the Combined DNA Index System, is a federal program that collects and maintains the DNA of anyone arrested (not even convicted) of a felony in cases where a DNA sample is taken. Law enforcement officers then get grants to run their cold case DNA evidence against the CODIS data, seeking matches.
Most of the time, it can tell you who you might probably suspect. But what prosecutors don’t often tell jurors is that there is a relatively high likelihood of a false positive in these old cases. This is evidence you will have to rely on your defense attorney to present.
The other thing to understand is that like anything else, memories can fade with time. It’s difficult for most people to answer what they were doing at a certain time a month ago, let alone details of what happened decades ago. This is certainly understandable, but if the evidence isn’t crystal clear, it shouldn’t be used to convict someone on a Class A felony charge.
In this case, prosecutors are relying on both fingerprints and DNA.
Prints from the victim’s vehicle were reportedly lifted by police at the time of the crime. A sexual assault kit was also performed at the hospital.
Cold case investigators recently dusted off the case, and were able to reportedly match both the fingerprints and the DNA from the sexual assault kit to the defendant using national databases.
However, defense attorneys are arguing this case isn’t solid. For one thing, there were fingerprints found in the car that could not be identified, belonging to neither the victim, the defendant or any acquaintance of the victim.
Further, with regard to the DNA evidence, the sample reportedly matched only 11 of 16 alleles, which are groupings of genetic code. He argued that there were at least seven other suspects who had matches for 7 or 8 alleles.
Certainly, this was a horrific crime, and justice should be served. But it is only an injustice if we convict the wrong person.