Wednesday, September 24, 2014

UK: Criminals could appeal after Home Office admits potentially misleading DNA evidence presented to juries

Criminals including murderers and rapists could attempt to have their convictions overturned after the Home Office admitted that potentially misleading DNA evidence was presented to juries.

The admission came five months after a leading forensic scientist warned of a series of cases in which courts were given subjective summaries of complex DNA evidence rather than direct access to solid statistics, The Times reported.

Prof Peter Gill, who raised the issue with the Home Office in April, said the recognition that subjective interpretations of DNA evidence were potentially biased and unscientific could lead to a number of appeals. "As soon as they [the Home Office] start admitting that mistakes have been made, this opens the door to appeals in other cases," Prof Gill said.

In draft guidance issued last week, it was confirmed that during the last year criminal courts had been increasingly relying on qualitative assessments of DNA evidence. These presented a "significant risk" of juries being misled about the strength of the prosecution case.

Until last year, DNA evidence from crime scenes was typically ruled inconclusive unless scientists could statistically evaluate the likelihood that a suspect had contributed to a sample.

However, a series of cases involving complex DNA samples led to the Court of Appeal to rule last year that there were instances where it is helpful for experts to give juries a subjective view based on their professional experience.

Crime Prevention Minister Norman Baker said: "Now is the right time for guidance on this topic to be published" but added: "I am advised that it will give no new basis for appeal whatsoever in appeal cases which were not already supported by existing academic literature."

Original report here



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