Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Always a Flip Side

Like a lot of people, I was pretty comforted when I read yesterday about the proposed $1 billion package for DNA testing. I mean sure, I was a little suspect because John Ashcroft was touting the idea, which de facto makes it the equivalent of getting in that dirty white van that pulls up beside you when your car's broken down on an isolated road, a van whose interior is lined with porn. Getting in seems like a good idea at the time, if nothing else.

Hot on the heels of this proposal, though, is today's report in The Guardian about the wide-eyed, trigger-happy nimrods in the Houstons who have consistently made a mess of DNA testing.

Thousands of convictions based on DNA evidence have been called into question after inspections revealed that sloppy standards and contamination of evidence were rife at American police laboratories.

The debacle is centred on Houston, Texas, where the first sample to be retested showed that DNA used to convict a man now serving 25 years for rape could not possibly have been his. Another 524 cases are being scrutinised in the city, while similar problems in Oklahoma, Montana and Washington state could give thousands more inmates new grounds for appeal.

Josiah Sutton, now 21, was jailed in 1999 on the basis of the Houston police department's genetic testing, since the victim was the only witness and her recollection was sketchy. But lab technicians there were incompetent, standards were poor and some DNA evidence was even contaminated by rainwater from a leaking roof, the audit concluded.

"What's that you say, Mr. Driver of the White Porn-Laden Van? I have a pretty mouth? Why, um, thank you, I think. . . ."