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The continuing legal evolution of forensic DNA

Williams, K.E. and Panella, M.J. The continuing legal evolution of forensic DNA. The Pennsylvania Lawyer. January/February, 34-37, 2013.


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The Pennsylvania Lawyer


Abstract: Lawyers are well aware of the importance of DNA evidence in potentially meeting a lawyer's burden of proof. Whether in a criminal or a civil case, DNA can serve as a key piece of evidence, particularly given the "CSI effect" the media has attached to DNA. However, as with all scientific evidence, there are strengths and limitations of forensic DNA tests, which are important knowledge points for lawyers as they prepare their cases. Furthermore, as with the law, science continues to evolve, which makes it critical for lawyers to be aware of scientific advancements that may support or adversely affect their cases.

It is the use of an automated, computer-based analysis (TrueAllele®) that is central to the recent Frye hearing and decision in Foley. This use of the computer analysis markedly decreased the odds of a random match probability from one in 13,000 to one in 189 billion. The Foley decision has opened the way for the application of this computer analysis in potentially complicated DNA mixture cases. Besides the implications of admitting the computer analysis in Pennsylvania courts, the case emphasizes the importance of lawyers carefully assessing the strengths and limitations of forensic tests with review of new developments.