Hofstra Law Review

Article Title

The Crimes of Crime Labs


In November 2005, a man was convicted in New York City for a thirty-two-year-old rape. The circumstances were quite unusual, even for cold cases. The original 1974 trial had ended in a hung jury, and the defendant had jumped bail before his scheduled re-trial. He was apprehended in 2004 in Georgia on another charge, and a background check disclosed the open New York warrant. The crucial difference between the 1974 and 2005 trials was DNA evidence recovered from the underpants which the victim wore on the day of the crime, "found stuffed in the files in the Manhattan district attorney's cold case unit."

Unimaginable a generation ago, DNA evidence now virtually guarantees a conviction in a sex offense case. DNA forensic procedures have attained the courtroom air of flawlessness, often referred to as the "mystical spell" of DNA. DNA is heroic truth. It is the forensic equivalent of divine intervention, with its Herculean capacity to free the falsely convicted and-just as importantly-to demonstrate that no malefactor can escape justice, no matter how long it takes. In her closing argument in the 2005 rape case, the Assistant District Attorney told the jury that the DNA profile recovered from the victim's underwear and that of the defendant were "identical in every way." Then she clinched her point: "Yankee Stadium could be filled with 50,000 people once a day for 54,000 years and there would not be another person who would match [the rapist's] profile." The prosecutor stressed to the jury that, by contrast to the "total domination" by the assailant during the brutal attack, now it was the victim's "turn to hold the power-her turn, because DNA works."

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