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After 12 years in prison, retest of DNA evidence sets man free

In cases involving allegations of sexual assault or rape, all information and evidence pertaining to a case must be thoroughly investigated and examined. Today, many sex crimes investigations rely heavily upon DNA evidence. However, even in cases where DNA evidence is available, mistakes in analyzing DNA evidence can occur.

In 1999, a 12-year-old girl was reported missing. When she was eventually found, she told police she had been sexually assaulted by her next-door neighbor. An analysis of DNA evidence found in the girl's underwear showed there was only a small chance, 1 in 290, that the DNA matched that of her neighbor. Despite this inconclusive evidence, the DNA evidence along with the girl's testimony were enough to convict the man of serious felony charges including rape of a child and aggravated sexual battery and the man was sentenced to serve 20 years in prison.

From the time the accusations were made, the man vehemently denied any wrongdoing. While serving his prison sentence he filed numerous appeals, all of which were rejected. The multiple appeals eventually got the attention of an attorney who was able to get the DNA sample from his case retested. The results of the second DNA analysis conclusively proved that the man did not commit the crime for which he had already served years in prison.

After 12 long years behind bars, the man was finally released from prison. It took another two years, however, after the victim recanted her story, for the state to drop all criminal charges. The man's wrongful conviction has adversely impacted his life in innumerable ways and he is planning to pursue his own legal case against the state.

This case proves the serious and unjust implications that can result when errors are made with regard to DNA evidence. While DNA evidence is often regarded as being indisputable in criminal cases, mistakes can and do occur in the collecting, processing and testing DNA evidence.

Individuals who are accused of a sex crime or other type of serious crime in which DNA evidence was collected are often presumed guilty based on the results of state laboratory tests. A defense attorney will vigorously work to defend an individual’s rights and may refute DNA evidence or request that a sample be retested at a different laboratory.

Source: The Tennessean, "TN exoneration joins growing number of innocence cases," Brian Haas, June 2, 2014

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