DNA testing is effective two different ways. It either finds you innocent, or it finds you guilty.
In order to find out who, and who did not commit a crime, it is the only truly accurate method to do so. It can either exonerate a prisoner, or can keep them behind bars for life. "Exoneration" is an official act declaring a defendant not guilty of a crime for which he or she had previously been convicted, so it is basically setting them free.
For years, a debate has been raging about whether DNA testing on all prisoners is necessary, especially those on death row. Some states require it, while some states refuse it. Our judicial system is supposedly geared towards uncovering the truth at all costs, so shouldn't that include the one test that can instantly determine guilt?
Here are two well-known examples that display how effective DNA testing uncovers the truth.
Case One: Two men from Virginia have been exonerated by newly tested DNA from rapes committed more than 20 years ago they did not commit. Both of the men spent more than a decade behind bars. These discoveries are the result of DNA testing that Virginia's Governor Warner ordered more than a year ago This case has re-sparked a national debate about post-conviction testing of biological evidence.
Case Two: Recently, DNA test results were announced that prove Roger Keith Coleman was guilty of the 1981 rape and murder of his sister-in-law, putting an end to a debate that has raged about his innocence since he was executed in 1992. Roger Keith Coleman pleaded his innocence up until the moment he was executed. His last words were, "An innocent man is going to be murdered tonight. When my innocence is proved, I hope Americans will realize the injustice of the death penalty as all other civilized countries have."
In the United States from 1989 through 2003, 340 exonerations have been cleared, 327 men and 13 women. 144 of them were cleared by DNA evidence, 196 by other means. With a handful of exceptions, they had been in prison for years. More than half had served terms of ten years or more and 80 percent had been imprisoned for at least five years. As a group, they had spent more than 3400 years in prison for crimes for which they should never have been convicted-an average of more than ten years each.
Can you imagine how many lives were ruined by these false convictions? Families were torn apart, children, wives, husbands, careers, friends, and the families of the victims.
Aside from avoiding wrongful executions and alleviating unjust imprisonments, these post-conviction DNA exonerations have served another important public purpose. In many cases, DNA testing has led to the real perpetrator.
A good example is from a case within the past couple years. Two men were convicted in Oklahoma for a 1982 rape-murder in which the State used microscopic hair comparisons for testing. One was five days away from being executed when a federal judge ordered DNA testing. That testing not only demonstrated that the two defendants were innocent, but it lead to a man who had recently been convicted and sentenced to death for the very same 1982 rape-murder.
Pennsylvania is a state that feels it is necessary to test prisoners in order to avoid a wrongful conviction or death sentence.
Starting in winter of 2005, every convicted felon in Pennsylvania has been required to provide a tissue sample for DNA testing. This procedure, which started on a smaller scale in 1995, so far has matched 321 Pennsylvania prisoners to previously unsolved cases. Strangely enough, it does not require that the prisoner's DNA be compared to evidence from his original case to make sure he was properly convicted. .
Government and state officials argue that required DNA testing would place extra weight on an already overloaded system, and many labs would be backed up for years upon years; more so than they already are now.
Some officials say they are also concerned about the cost. Excuse me? What price do you put on your life? What price do you put on an innocent life? If every DNA test costs $500 to $700 on average, would it be too big a burden to test everyone against evidence from their original trials? The cost of testing needs to be weighed against the current expense of more than $28,000 a year to house an inmate in state prison.
There is absolutely no excuse for not submitting a sample into a DNA Database to find out who committed the crime. It is unbelievable that over a course of ten or so years while the convicted is in jail, DNA is not tested just to assure that conviction.
The Massachusetts CODIS administrator acknowledged that some investigators do not submit DNA profiles from exoneration cases to the Database because they have difficulty believing the wrong person was convicted. The failure to seek a DNA match is all the more disappointing given that when such a profile is run through the Database, the real criminal was identified more than 40 percent of the time. So if it seems that half of the time innocent people are being convicted, what really is the price of a single blood sample?