Thousands of case files are set to be reopened in Texas after a change in scientific standards for DNA evaluation raised questions about the convictions of numerous defendants.
DNA evidence has been seen as a highly reliable indicator of guilt or innocence in criminal cases for decades. But a major re-evaluation in the probabilities involved has led to the re-opening of cases. Texas is likely to see hundreds, if not thousands of cases, reviewed.
A report on the station KXAN stated a change in scientific standards has prompted the review. We noted the new concerns about DNA testing last year.
The issue does not concern the actual tests but the probabilities used by scientists to calculate a match which prosecutors use as evidence of the degree of reliability of the tests.
Bob Wicoff, director of the Texas DNA Mixture Review Project, said the science has evolved in recent years regarding the calculation of the frequency that certain “DNA profiles appear at random in the population.”
Wicoff also serves as the Chief of the Appellate Division of the Harris County Public Defender’s Office. He is checking cases to find out if any qualify for a re-evaluation due to the DNA mixture issues. He said the issue is a massive one.
Since the spring, the project has looked at 750 cases. About 30 of these have been put forward for re-evaluation. Wicoff told KXAN be believes reviews could be eventually sought in tens of thousands of cases.
Wicoff it might take years for attorneys to look through all the cases that could be subject to a second analysis. While re-analysis may not help the defense’s case, Wicoff knew of at least one example where a re-examination returned considerably different results in favor of the defendant. He said the test could not even match the defendant in question to the DNA.
Robert Kepple, Executive Director of the Texas District & County Attorneys Association, said many lawyers were looking at cases with mixture evidence to see if the new formula would make a difference.
The re-evaluation is a potentially massive and time-consuming exercise. This is a complicated area of evidence gathering but it is a concern to us that DNA, which has been seen as the gold standard of evidence for many years, is now under scrutiny. If you have been charged with a serious crime, it’s important to hire an experienced Texas criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.