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DNA
But...before you start thinking that DNA,
particularly in the area of suspect
identification, is going to be some kind of
magic bullet, take a step back and focus
in on the real world.  While the science
itself is indeed impressive, you've got to
factor in people when you apply forensic
science, or any kind of high technology,
to law enforcement.  

There's some fantastic computer
information technology available to police
departments that are still struggling to
utilize even a fraction of its potential.  
Sadly, they don't do a great job of even
utilizing that fraction.  When it comes to
DNA technology, you've got the same
people determining the acquisition, use
and maintenance of DNA technology.

This may not be immediately obvious to
you, but the biggest, and most
important, benefit of DNA identification is
its ability to protect innocent people from
being wrongly convicted and imprisoned
for crimes they did not commit.  As long
as you maintain high ethical standards
throughout your career, you won't even
need DNA to tell you when you don't
have a case.  Unfortunately, there are
some police officers and prosecutors who
have infinite faith in their ability to
interrupt evidence any way they like...if
some facts don't fit, ignore them...if
some facts need a little creative
manipulation, that's okay too.
The three young men named as suspects
in this case were fortunate enough to
come from families who could afford to
hire "real" attorneys who were willing to
expose the corruption of one in their own
profession. Ironically, the only reason DA
Nifong arbitrarily targeted the three men
was because they came from what many
would consider a position of social
privilege.  The proof of this was in the
fact that these hapless "suspects" had
none of the usual civil rights activists and
organizations coming to their support.

...DNA saved them

It's a scary thought to think about what
could have happened if this case had ever
gone to trial.  It's not a leap to believe
that this prosecutor would have
attempted to permanently conceal the
true DNA results as inconclusive.  
Fortunately, that did not happen, and the
DNA saved them.

While DNA identification can be applied to
many different types of crimes, you'll find
that rape and sexual assault
investigations will routinely rely on the
benefits of DNA identification for obvious
reasons.  However, keep in mind that
while the DNA identification is a very
important part of the investigation, it is
only one part, and it can be problematic.

In the example of the Duke Rape Case,
it's obvious that the alleged victim had
experienced recent vaginal intercourse
with four different men.  DNA testing can
establish that intercourse occurred, but it
cannot determine if the intercourse was
the result of rape...that's what a police
investigation must determine through a
comprehensive and competent
investigation.  In the Duke Rape Case,
comprehensive and competent were
never parts of the equation.

When you begin your police career, you
should soon observe that evidence
comes in many forms.  In most
instances, forensic evidence, e.g. DNA;
firearms, fingerprints, etc., will only
confirm or support conclusions already
derived from other aspects of your
investigation.  When the forensic
evidence refutes a conclusion, it gives
you the opportunity to change or expand
the direction of your investigation.  At
some point, when all the parts fit
together, you've solved your crime, and
you'll be prosecuting the right person(s).
In 2006 Michael Nifong, the Durham, NC,
District Attorney, for his own political
gain at the expense of three totally
innocent young men.  The national
media's attention was initially drawn to
the case, because three white Duke
University Lacrosse players were accused
of violently raping and sodomizing a
young African American exotic dancer at
an off campus party.

After a quick Grand Jury Indictment was
obtained, where interestingly no
transcription of the proceeding was
recorded, the District Attorney's case
almost immediately began to fall apart.  
To the media's credit, it stuck with the
story.  Of course, it was too good to
pass up.  About three months into the
drama, the District Attorney's totally
manipulated photo identification of the
suspects was revealed.  While the judges
in Durham sat on their hands, calls went
out to the State Attorney General to
enter the prosecution which the District
Attorney was determined to take to trial.

For a very long time the TV prosecutor
pundits extolled the virtues of the
criminal justice system insisting that the
prosecutor must have something
everyone was missing, and everything
would be sorted out at trial.  It was
obvious none of them had ever faced a
wrongful prosecution where sex, race,
rape and politics would be merged into
one big activist agenda sitting like the
800 pound gorilla in that court room.

Early on everybody talked about DNA.  I
don't think anyone will ever know exactly
when the District Attorney knew the DNA
results would exonerate the suspects.  
When the DA's attempts to conceal the
results from defense lawyers were
revealed, he simply dropped the rape
charges leaving charges of kidnapping
and other sexual assaults intact.  He
knew that DNA from four different men
were inside the alleged victim; however,
the DNA did not match the suspects or
any of the other 43 young men at the
party.

Finally, after nine months of this absurd
non-investigation and prosecution, the
State Attorney General set the best and
brightest from his office to the task of
saving the North Carolina Criminal Justice
System.  After another three months,
the Attorney General announced that the
suspects were "innocent."  The pundits
fell all over themselves at the
pronouncement, because a declaration of
innocence from a prosecutor was
unprecedented.  But...what choice did he
have?  The Attorney General was already
about six months behind the curve,
before he acted.  DA Nifong's absurd and
outrageous prosecutorial misconduct had
made the "innocent" pronouncement,
versus the standard "insufficient
evidence" tag, a matter of politics rather
than justice.  It worked well...the use the
innocent label prevented continuing
criticism, and the Attorney General
received praise despite his office's long
period of inaction.

The North Carolina Bar Association even
saw the wisdom in dumping one of their
own, and they acted quickly to disbar
their rogue brother.  Of course, neither
the Attorney General, nor the Bar
Association, saw any need in identifying
and disciplining any of DA Nifong's
deputies who aided their boss either
overtly or by negligently ignoring his
misconduct.  To be sure, the Durham
Police Department was part of the
problem, but, in this case, you couldn't
have gotten to any bad cops without first
going through some more bad lawyers.
Deoxyribonucleic Acid
Every police academy in the nation should
include in its curriculum an in depth
examination of the Duke Lacrosse Rape
Case:
"When the forensic evidence refutes
a conclusion, it gives you the
opportunity to change or expand the
direction of your investigation." ~
Barry M. Baker
The implications of DNA evidence
processes and techniques on law
enforcement cannot be overstated.   The
speed with which scientific and
technological advancements are occurring
is mind boggling.  There's no question
that we're living in a time like no other.
Copyright © 2017  Barry M. Baker  
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