My presentation Failed Evidence on January 31 at the University of Toledo College of Law — lively, well attended, and intense — featured a great question that I want to put to everyone.
One person in attendance was a man who is a police chief in Ohio. He’s had a long and distinguished career; I had the great privilege of working with him some years ago, when I was a member of the University of Toledo faculty. In one part of my presentation on Failed Evidence, I discussed the more than 300 cases since 1989 in which DNA identification has resulted in an exoneration. In the Q & A after the talk, the chief asked a question about the 300-plus cases. I’ll paraphrase: among those cases, he said, there would be some in which the DNA results disproved the conviction, but did not necessarily prove the defendant was not guilty. This is because, he said, the absence of the defendant’s DNA may not support guilt, but it also does not necessarily prove innocence either. (I’m hoping I understood his comment/question correctly and am conveying it clearly.) Was I prepared to admit that in at least some of the 300 cases, the defendants might indeed be guilty, even if the DNA had resulted in the defendant’s release and the dropping of charges?
I have had this question asked of me before, and heard it posed to others. I gave my answer, but I would like very much to hear yours. What do you think? Is the question correct, or is it based on certain assumptions that may not hold? What would your answer to the question be?