What do the topics in the title of this blog post have in common? They were the focus of the students’ criminal justice presentations this week. Nine teams of students, two on each team, have been researching and preparing their presentations throughout the semester. Here are some of my takeaways from the first set of presentations.
The State of North Carolina goes to trial against Donnie Defendant, who is alleged to be the infamous “Tarheel State Killer” and charged with committing a series of brutal assaults and murders several decades ago. The state’s case depends heavily on matching DNA evidence from the crime scene to a sample of DNA taken off a cigarette butt discarded by Donnie. At trial, Special Agent Wanda Witness testifies as an expert in forensic DNA analysis for the state. After explaining the science behind PCR, STR, loci, and markers, Wanda opines that Donnie’s DNA is indeed a match to the DNA recovered from the crime scene.
Sounds like good news for the state, but what exactly does a “match” mean? And how may the significance or statistical probability of that “match” be expressed to the jury? It’s an important question, because what might sound like two similar ways of expressing the same probability can have dramatically different meanings – and possibly even be considered error on appeal.
Yesterday the Supreme Court decided a case that one Justice called “perhaps the most important criminal procedure case that this Court has heard in decades.” A bare majority of the Court ruled that the police may take DNA from those arrested for, but not yet convicted of, “serious offense[s].” The case resolves a deep split … Read more
In recent years there has been a spate of cases assessing the sufficiency of the evidence in murder prosecutions where the State’s case is built on circumstantial evidence. A recent decision by the court of appeals in State v. Carver should make prosecutors happy while frustrating the defense. The majority described the facts of Carver … Read more
As most readers of this blog are aware, S.L. 2010-94 creates a new statute, G.S. 15A-266.3A, which provides for the collection of a DNA sample from anyone arrested for a laundry list of offenses, most but not all of which are felonies, and most but not all of which are violent crimes. Under some circumstances, … Read more
The News and Observer reports today on “a proposal to collect DNA from suspects when they are arrested for felonies or violent crimes.” The bill in question is H1403, and it states that “any person who is arrested for committing a felony must provide his or her DNA sample . . . for . . … Read more
It’s time to round up some news. First, the News and Observer recently commented on President Obama’s failure to nominate any additional North Carolinians for the Fourth Circuit — a court on which Tar Heels are wildly underrepresented — despite several vacancies. Of course, the White House has been moving rather deliberately on judicial nominations … Read more
Several interesting news items have cropped up recently. First, the United States Supreme Court decided District Attorney’s Office v. Osborne, in which a 5-4 majority ruled that there is no constitutional right to post-conviction DNA testing. Having slogged through the whole decision, my sense is that it will have limited impact in North Carolina given … Read more
Editor’s note: A previous post concerning a United States Supreme Court case about post-conviction DNA testing appears here. Recently, I’ve been getting a lot of calls about requests for post-conviction DNA testing. Since there seems to be a bit of confusion about how these requests should be made and handled, I thought it might be … Read more
An interesting article appeared yesterday in the New York Times. You can read it here, but the gist of it is that the federal government and about 15 states are now collecting DNA from people who are charged with certain crimes, usually felonies, even if the individuals are not convicted. As the article observes, this … Read more