innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

New crime lab needed

This article appeared in the Rochester Democrat & Chromicle on October 30, 2006:

New crime lab needed

Backlogs on DNA testing slow efforts toward justice

Prosecuting a case that puts an innocent person behind bars is one of the great fears a district attorney faces. So Monroe County District Attorney Mike Green is right to advocate for an expanded crime lab.

A county task force on public safety laboratory needs is expected to release a report soon. The state, federal and county governments should be ready with resources for a modern lab.

The county's current public safety lab was built in 1962. It has long outgrown its cramped office space, which lacks proper temperature controls for sensitive scientific work. There is currently a 1,200-case backlog for firearms work and a 600-case backlog for DNA testing.

That makes it difficult to evaluate DNA evidence for all of the cases that are about to go to trial, let alone review DNA evidence from old cases that may reveal wrongful convictions. That's worrisome considering the case of Jeffrey Deskovic of Westchester County, who was recently released from prison after DNA testing evidence revealed he was innocent of a murder for which he had been convicted. He lost 16 years of his life. How many other cases are there like his?

If the state's DNA database is expanded, as many legislators demand, there will be even greater need for a modern lab.

Scientific advances can make the criminal justice system much fairer and more efficient if counties such as Monroe receive the resources to make use of them. Greater use of DNA evidence, for example, can help relieve the burdened court system. If a criminal defendant knows a jury will see DNA evidence that the odds are one in a quintillion that someone else committed the crime, he will be more likely to plead guilty. Innocent people will be spared costly and stressful trials.

For the sake of justice in Monroe County, a new crime lab must be a priority.


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