Document Type

Article

Publication Title

Houston Law Review

Publication Date

2004

Abstract

This Article explores what happens when spectacular scientific breakthroughs are administered within a criminal justice system whose stance of impartiality is often undermined by sloppy or tainted analysis and testimony as it copes with the pressure to resolve an enormous backlog of DNA samples. A hypothetical case involving the problems an attorney might face in representing a client many years after an accusation of rape serves as the frame for a discussion of both the serious issues and suggested reforms. After this Introduction, Part II reconsiders the policy behind statutes of limitations, both as originally understood and in light of the forensic breakthroughs utilizing DNA identification methods. Part III explores the failure of state and federal laboratories to maintain professional forensic standards, concluding that in many cases these laboratories disregard basic recordkeeping and sample-retention protocols. Part IV suggests restraint in our pell-mell rush to limit and eliminate limitations periods in the cases most affected by DNA analysis. In addition, Part IV considers whether rape victims truly benefit from the possibility of open-ended prosecutions. Finally, Part IV outlines a limitations proposal designed to take account of both the promise of the forensic future and the peril in our current simultaneous overreliance on scientific theory and underestimation of human failings. As a whole, this Article is by no means a how-to manual, but rather a hybrid composition: the theoretical questions of statutory limitations and the law's punitive and therapeutic aims meet their answer in the human, quotidian problems of DNA case-processing. Ultimately, the Article evaluates a key piece of a larger human puzzle: how should the legal system deal with incorruptible evidence in very fallible hands?

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