A Million DNA Forensics Samples Remain Untested

The news about James Baines, the Florida resident who spent 35 years in jail for a crime he has only just now been  proven to be unconnected to has really shaken the faith people have in the justice system. But to these people, the reason Baines was released should bring a much-needed boost to their faith: no surprise there, it was sophisticated DNA forensics that won the day. All over the nation, 246 wrongfully convicted people, serving time in prison, have been released and exonerated by DNA forensics, though no one served for as long as the innocent and happy-looking Baines who walked free the first time in a third of a century. At least, Florida law does grant a certain amount of minimal justice for all the wrong done to him - he gets an automatic grant of $50,000 for every unjust year he spent in jail.

The nation certainly places a lot of faith in DNA forensics, and rightly so. But there is many a slip, as they say. It's been reported that the laws around the country that deal in collecting DNA samples from known criminals, are very confusing to most law enforcement agencies. So it turns out that for a good part of the time, no DNA gets collected . A government estimate puts the number at about 1 million, for samples that prison authorities could legally have collected but just didn't. And when they do collect them, a lot of the time they'll just misplace them: the authorities in Wisconsin found more than 10,000 DNA samples gone missing recently. Of course things like this will happen, seeing how swamped these departments are right now. They say that there are currently nearly a million samples just sitting on the shelves around the country because they are not enough trained people to test those samples. In some cases, shocking injustices will happen while those workers get around to the million samples on their backlog: people waiting forlornly in prison for the day that their sample will be tested and they will be set free, for instance. Or people will remain free, like Walter Ellism, a serial murderer in Wisconsin who was free to do his deeds for 20 years because no one had a real DNA sample of his tested. No wonder there are all these right-wingers who just don't trust the justice system.

Now before you know it, they are probably going to shift all those samples to some poor third world country: outsourcing the work there are not enough trained people in this country for. And who knows where that will take us. The Apple computer company a couple of years ago scouted in India for a good call center to handle their work. They say Steve Jobs came away empty-handed, so unsatisfactory was the quality of call center work done there. One just wonders what would happen if they shipped over DNA forensics work to a place where even call-center work quality is unsatisfactory. But perhaps that would be a better option than just letting those samples sit on a shelf for ten years right here.

Over in Britain, the laws governing DNA sample collections are not really evolved yet. The police there now are said to be racially profiling black people, just arresting them "on suspicion" just so that they can get their DNA samples on record. DNA forensics is really the greatest hope today for justice. But it still has to get past lot of hopeless tendencies in the people who handle it.

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