DNA Testing’s Limits in Correcting Wrongful Convictions

While the FBI and Department of Justice continue their review of hundreds of convictions based on faulty forensic evidence, law professor Daniel Medwed argues that post-conviction DNA testing is not the solution to the problem of wrongful convictions.

Twenty-five years ago, Gary Dotson’s aggravated kidnapping and rape convictions were overturned when testing on the original rape kit excluded Dotson as the perpetrator. This was the first DNA exoneration in America. More than 300 convictions have been overturned via post-conviction DNA testing since.

But biological evidence is found in only a small portion of cases. Even when it is found, sometimes DNA identification is not possible.

And even when DNA identification seems to show a person has been wrongly convicted, Medwed notes, barriers to freedom remain. A legal time limit may have expired. Burdens of proof are heavy. Courts apply strict standards of review of convictions.

Medwed calls for reforms to avoid wrongful convictions in the first place: video-recording police interrogations, creating guidelines for prosecutors, and unbiased eyewitness identification procedures.