Can DNA evidence be wrong? You bet. Although it is a sophisticated science, it is still performed by human beings. Sometimes, people make mistakes – and some people make more mistakes than others.
At issue is a Texas crime lab that “so consistently and egregiously mishandled DNA evidence that it was shut down by the state,” according to a friend-of-the-court brief by the American Bar Association (ABA).
Areli Carbajal Escobar’s case was one of those the crime lab mishandled ruled a lower court in Texas that considers fundamental fairness and constitutional rights. That court held that the DNA evidence in Areli’s case is “false, misleading and unreliable.”
The ABA points out that the DNA in Areli’s case was handled by at least two lab workers with serious disciplinary issues. The lab itself was often unable to follow chain of custody due to a culture of carelessness and inattention to detail.
Even the prosecutor who tried Areli supports his argument for a new trial. Areli has filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court.
Unfortunately, despite support from the prosecutor, the lower court and the ABA, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has turned down his appeals, and it is the state’s highest appellate court.
According to a January order, Areli may be entirely correct that the DNA evidence in his case was false. It doesn’t matter, said the court, because there was other compelling evidence in the case. For example, one of Areli’s fingerprints was allegedly found at the crime scene. It is unclear whether the fingerprint was tested by the same rogue crime lab.
There is also the testimony of Areli’s then-girlfriend, who called him at the time the alleged murder took place. She claims to have heard moaning and screaming, which she thought meant Areli was having sex.
Is that a good enough reason not to give Areli a new trial? No. As the ABA points out, inaccurate DNA evidence is something presented by the state. If there is reason to believe that the lab failed to meet basic standards, it should never present such evidence in the first place.
This crime lab in Areli’s case failed to meet at least four of the ABA’s own standards for DNA evidence.
DNA evidence is extremely powerful. Juries tend to believe it is infallible. The jury in Areli’s case may well have set aside any remaining doubts when they were told his DNA had been found at the crime scene.
A reasonable jury might not find Areli guilty – or might not give him the death penalty – if they weren’t given faulty DNA evidence. He deserves his chance to find out.