Monday, January 16, 2012

DNA Doesn't Always Make Cold Cases Easy To Prosecute

If you've followed the blog for any length of time you know I have an interest in cold cases. The New York Times had a great piece last week that looked at the difficulty faced in prosecuting decades old cases even with DNA evidence.

With the advent of DNA science and other technological advancements, it is no longer unusual for juries to see evidence from crimes that happened as long ago as the 1970s. But old cases present unique challenges for prosecutors and defense lawyers: Key witnesses may have moved or died, documents could have disappeared, and evidence collection standards are now much stricter.

“The farther back in time you’re talking about, the more those things fray and disintegrate,” said Rob Owen, a University of Texas School of Law professor who specializes in death penalty cases.

I've been trying to compile an accurate list of unsolved homicides at the department where I work. We had records in paper files and indices, on microfiche and two different computer databases. After chipping away at this project for some time I managed to cobble together a complete list going back 40 years or so. I am sure that things at my agency are not that unusual from any other agency.

When you consider that not only are a police department's records important for a successful prosecution but so are the prosecutor's, medical examiner's, and a myriad of other old records you can see how difficult these old cases could be.

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