18 May 2008

DNA Evidence

We are all familiar with the use of DNA evidence in Criminal cases, and it is becoming quite common.

In Dallas County, Texas, however, there have now been 17 prisoners cleared by the use of DNA evidence to look at historical convictions. They include James Woodard, who has spent 27 years in gaol after prosecutors in his case withheld evidence from the defence.

You can read more about it here at CNN.

The part of the story that really disturbed me was the suggestion that it seems to have been a regular thing for evidence to be withheld by prosecutors, and that they would resist moves to prosecute them for it! There is a whole world of difference between an honest mistake, and a deliberate withholding of evidence.

It is interesting that this also comes at a time when the UK is looking at using prosecutors who are employed, rather than members of the independant Bar, and is one of the reasons given in favour of retaining the current system. Read more in this article at The Times online

Here in South Australia, trials are usually prosecuted by employees of the Director of Public Prosecutions, with some being briefed to Barristers, depending on workload. Perhaps because the profession here is fairly small, it does not seem to be a problem - any prosecutor who withheld evidence would soon lose all credibility in the profession.

What do you think we need to safeguard this?


Tex said...

Actually, in SA (and across Australia) lots of trials are also conducted by a small group of overworked and (mostly) dedicated Police officers, who after a 6 week course, are taught the (very) basics of Trial conduct and let loose on the Courts.

Whilst there has always been those that think that the Police prosecutors are too close to the Police investigators, I'm here to tell you that it's just not the case.

Evidence that exonerates the defendant? Give it here so I can take instructions to withdraw the file. Evidence that might exonerate him? Still give it here, I'll disclose it and we'll see what happens.

I couldn't think of anything more damaging to the reputation of any individual Police prosecutor than being thought of as 'shonky' let alone 'corrupt'. No one would trust him and his working life would be a nightmare. Plus, we wear the white hats (quite literally).

Of course, disclosure is a vexed issue, if only because the issue of relevance rears its head, time and time again.

"Why on earth do you want this?"

There are some that feel that they can demand copies of anything and everything from Prosecution by throwing Carter v Hayes and the State of South Australia (1994) 61 SASR 451 around with abandon will get very terse replies that mention that upon reading Carter v Hayes, there are "six occurrences of the word “inspect”, ten occurrences of the word “access” and exactly none of the word “provide” in the context of “Prosecution provide defence" and when would you like to come and inspect the statements and make notes?"

It does feel nice to be able to educate some of Adelaide's lesser leading legal lights (I've been practising my alliteration). And it also helps if you refrain from calling it 'discovery' as opposed to 'disclosure' because all that is telling me is that you don't do much Criminal work.

America, like the past, is another country; they do things differently there. Their equivalent of the DPP is the DA, which if you have never seen any American movie or TV show that dealt remotely with the law, stands for District Attorney.

District Attornies are quite often elected. Plus, being a DA is often a springboard to higher government.

So, what differentiates one potential DA from another, come election time? Why, it's results! Convictions are a "good thing" and a potential DA with lots of them is far more vote-worthy than one who favours justice over favourable outcomes for Trials.

When you have more of an eye to your career than to justice, there are always going to be some that choose expediency than honesty.

(To draw an analogy, think of a reporter who when faced with publishing a story that might not be true and causing angst and upset to the subject, or not publishing and missing a scoop and selling more newspapers.)

I live(d) by the words of Travers "Christmas" Humphreys who said "Always the principle holds that Crown counsel is concerned with justice first, justice second and conviction a very bad third."

DNA is a useful tool, it is not the be-all and end-all of evidence. It is only a way of showing a particular person handled a particular object or was at a particular place. It is not incontrovertible evidence of guilt; simply one more strand of a web, which will irresistibly lead to a conclusion.

rod said...

my youtube user name is rodrickau. On it you will see police and dna, the disappearing water, a dead pelican, a blind turtle and a lot of unpicked grapes.

regarding criminal law and the police. How can a crime scene be created by a mere show of hands. Surely what underpins all crime is a victim that has been harmed.

The next test is to make the authorities aware that when the weir goes up at Wellington, the stagnant water will increase the use of chlorine gas at Mannum. This increase will make the water unusable for market gardening due to leaf and root burn.

Not having this announced on any media demonstrates the corruption of the state's university sector, who in my mind are keeping vital information secret.


Anonymous said...

how can a crime scene be made with a show of hands

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You be the judge.


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