Police in northeastern Alabama knew that whoever had committed the latest pharmacy break-in had been injured.
A piece of the suspect’s flesh had been left behind.
Our Birmingham criminal defense lawyers know that increasingly, that’s becoming akin to leaving a business card with your name, address and phone number.
In this case, authorities were able to extract DNA from that sliver of flesh and enter it into the federal Combined DNA Index System, also known as CODIS, from a state lab located in Huntsville. Within a short time, they had a hit: a 33-year-old DeKalb County man with a prior criminal record.
He is now being charged with third-degree burglary and probation violation. Alabama Code Section 13A-7-7 indicates that third-degree burglary is when an individual knowingly enters or unlawfully remains in a building with intent to commit a crime. It’s a Class C felony, and as such, it’s punishable by a minimum of 2 years in prison and a maximum of 20. If authorities can prove a firearm was used in the course of the crime, the minimum sentence is upped to 10 years. Maximum fines are set at $5,000.
Usually, when people think of DNA use in a criminal case, they think of murders or sexual assaults. But as the technology has become more widely understood and readily available, it’s being used in more and more cases. And if you’ve been arrested for a violent felony crime in the U.S., your DNA will automatically be entered into the CODIS system.
But does DNA demand a verdict?
There is no doubt that prosecutors sometimes rely on it heavily, and jurors tend to give it a lot of weight.
However, it’s worth noting that only 0.1 percent of our DNA is unique. The other 99.9 percent we share with all our fellow humans.
When investigators look at a crime scene, there is likely to be DNA everywhere. But just because it’s present doesn’t necessarily mean it’s relevant or useful.
First of all, prosecutors will need to provide some context. For example, defense lawyers may argue that while the DNA was present, there is some other legitimate explanation for why it was there.
Secondly, just because there is DNA present doesn’t automatically mean it can be used. In some cases, if the quality of the sample is poor or if it’s very small, a defense attorney might challenge the validity of the resulting conclusions.
Thirdly, there is also the very real possibility of human error. This is perhaps one of the biggest x-factors in DNA cases. It could involve the improper collection of DNA or storage. It could involve cross-contamination or improper testing.
Scores of recent cases involving DNA lab errors have been reported in recent months. For example, in New York City, the medical examiner’s office learned that it had failed to upload critical DNA evidence in some 50 cases. That revelation came only during a review prompted by the discovery that lab technicians had missed detection of DNA in some 26 rape cases – evidence that might have exonerated the suspect in custody.
And that brings us to the final point: Contrary to popular belief, it’s actually easier for DNA to exclude a suspect than it is to establish a positive identity. In fact, one-third of initial rape suspects are excluded as a result of DNA testing.
DNA evidence can be an important and powerful tool for both sides of a criminal case. It’s our job to ensure that the evidence presented against you – whether rudimentary or highly technical – is both accurate and fair and, if we can help it, presented in the light most favorable to you.