The Surprising Unreliability of DNA Evidence : A Tale of Bad Labs and Good Statutes of Limitations

Lecture Date


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Based on his article "In praise of statutes of limitations in sex offense cases" which won the 2005 Houston Law Review Professional Writing Award. Although DNA evidence is based on sound scientific principles, the unreliability of DNA evidence is due to the public DNA labs' systemic corruption, gross negligence, and endemic failure to properly train technicians on how to process DNA samples. In addition, convinced with the perfection of DNA evidence, prosecutors and state legislators have moved to extend, outflank, and even eliminate statutes of limitations on sex offenses. DiFonzo suggests several reforms aimed at alleviating the problem and restoring confidence to the process of DNA identification and testimony.

Speaker Information

Born in Buenos Aires and raised in New York City, J. Herbie DiFonzo has taught at Hofstra since 1995. He is a Professor of Law and has also served as Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Director of the Criminal Justice Clinic, and Director of the LL.M. Program in Family Law.

Prof. DiFonzo received a B.S in Sociology from St. Joseph’s College in Philadelphia, and J.D., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Virginia. Following law school graduation, he served as an Attorney General’s Honors Law Graduate at the United States Department of Justice. He had a wide-ranging two decades of law practice before becoming a full-time professor, including stints as a federal prosecutor and as a litigator in the areas of family law, criminal defense, negligence, and professional malpractice. In all, he conducted over 30 jury trials and several dozen appeals, including co-authoring two successful merits briefs in the United States Supreme Court.

Prof. DiFonzo has won numerous awards for his teaching and writing. He teaches courses in family law, civil procedure, and alternatives to litigation; and he writes primarily on issues in family law and criminal justice. He has authored two books:Intimate Associations: The Law and Culture of American Families (co-authored with Ruth C. Stern) (2013), and Beneath the Fault Line: The Popular and Legal Culture of Divorce in Twentieth-Century America (1997).

He has served as a Co-Reporter for two national family law projects. These include the Shared Parenting Project, sponsored by the Association of Families & Conciliation Courts (with Prof. Marsha Kline Pruett); and the Family Law Education Reform (FLER) Project, a national effort to improve family law teaching, for which he and Prof. Mary E. O’Connell received the 2006 Stanley Cohen Distinguished Research Award.

In 2014, Prof. DiFonzo delivered the Hofstra University Distinguished Faculty Lecture, Dilemmas of Shared Parenting in the 21st Century: How Law and Culture Shape Child Custody. Other major presentations include Medical Marijuana: History, Law, & Federalism for the Gitenstein Institute for Health Law and Policy (2015); The Odyssey of Shared Parenting, Plenary Presentation at the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts’ Annual Conference (2014); The Children of Baby M: Can Functional Norms Resolve Surrogacy’s Core Question?, Wells Conference on Adoption Law, Capital University Law School (2010); and The Surprising Unreliability of DNA Evidence: A Tale of Bad Labs and Good Statutes of Limitations, Hofstra University Distinguished Faculty Lecture (2005).

Recent articles and essays include From the Rule of One to Shared Parenting: Custody Presumptions in Law and Policy; Closing the Gap: Research, Policy, Practice and Shared Parenting, AFCC Think Tank Final Report (with Marsha Kline Pruett); How Marriage Became Optional: Cohabitation, Gender, and the Emerging Functional Norms; and The Crimes of Crime Labs; as well as several articles co-authored with Ruth C. Stern:Breaking the Mold and Picking Up the Pieces: Rights of Parenthood and Parentage in Nontraditional Families; The Children of Baby M.; The End of the Red Queen's Race: Medical Marijuana in the New Century; The Winding Road from Form to Function: A Brief History of Contemporary Marriage; and Devil in a White Coat: The Temptation of Forensic Evidence in the Age of CSI.