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Use of new forensic techniques comes with risks

By all accounts, the widespread use of DNA evidence in criminal investigations has been a boon to prosecutors throughout the U.S. Experts suggest, however, that investigators and prosecutors may be relying too heavily on DNA analyses and other new forensic techniques, which in turn can lead to the imprisonment of innocent people. No matter the changes, be it drug possession, assault or even driving under the influence, the irresponsible use of forensic evidence can have devastating consequences.

According to a recent article in the New York Times, one recent murder case illustrates the difficulties that the use of DNA evidence presents. In November of 2012, police discovered Raveesh Kumra robbed and murdered in his home in San Jose, California. A test of the materials under Kumra’s fingernails came up with a DNA match for Lukis Anderson, a 26 year old local man. Police immediately charged Anderson with murder.

Anderson, however, had been held in a local medical clinic for extreme intoxication on the night of Kumra’s murder. It was impossible for him to have performed the crime. Nevertheless, prosecutors moved forward with his conviction and Anderson was held in jail for five months leading up to his trial. At trial, forensic experts discovered an important connection between Kumra and Anderson: the same ambulance team that had transported Anderson to the hospital had transported Kumra’s remains the same night. Anderson’s DNA was transferred to Kumra’s fingernails somehow in the course of the ambulance ride.

Although DNA evidence may appear to be ironclad, this case demonstrates that this is not always true.

Source: The New York Times, "High-Tech, High-Risk Forensics," Osagie K. Obasogie, July 24, 2013