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Columbus Police To Review 3,000 DNA Test Results
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Columbus Police are going through several thousand old DNA cases because reporting procedures were not followed. Critical information was left out of the DNA reports.
The DNA cases in question date back to 2009. Police Chief Kimberly Jacobs said as many as 3,000 crime lab reports did NOT include the DNA tests’ statistical analysis. That is, how many people the DNA results could apply to.
Jacobs said new protocols required crime lab staff to include this information beginning in mid-2009. But it’s not required by law. Still, she said she’s disappointed.
“Certainly had we started doing this back then, I don’t think we’d be standing here today.”
Jacobs said she believes the oversights were just that, oversights.
“I have no reason to believe that there was any mal intent or anything else,” Jacobs said.
Nevertheless, some cases hinge on DNA testing.
Laurence Mueller chairs the University of California-Irvine’s department of ecology and evolutionary biology. He said DNA statistical evidence is critical because DNA testing can be wrong.
“So that’s why statistics are absolutely essential because there is always a chance that the DNA didn’t come from the defendant in a particular case,” Mueller explained.
And Mueller added the statistics are particularly important for jurors.
“If they hear, well we got a DNA test and there’s a match, and they jump to the conclusion that that must mean the evidence came from the defendant when in fact that isn’t necessarily true,” he said. “And in fact, there may be a fairly high chance that it came from some other person than the defendant.”
But Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien said his office rarely prosecutes cases where DNA is the only evidence presented at trial.
O’Brien said he has reviewed a dozen of the cases in question, and, so far, he said he has discovered no potential problems.
“Certainly we don’t want anybody in jail with a likelihood, or even a chance, that it was due to a false lab result,” O’Brien said. “So we are committed to, with the police department, identifying those. And if there are any in that category we’ll notify the defense immediately, as well as the court.”
While Jacobs said she cannot rule out someone may have been wrongfully convicted as a result of the oversight, she said she expects few criminal cases to be affected. And she added not all of the cases involve criminal suspects.
“Some samples involve the victim’s DNA. Some involve the DNA of unknown suspects or a witness.”
The crime lab’s new DNA director discovered the issues in September. Two additional audits found the statistics should have been included more often.
Jacobs said a majority of reports contained the statistical information. She adds the city will hire an independent DNA expert to audit the crime lab’s procedures.