Cornelius Dupree, Jr. was convicted of rape and robbery in 1979 and spent the next 30 years in a Dallas County prison. Throughout his ordeal, he maintained his innocence, even when he was twice offered parole if he would confess and admit to the crimes. A recent comparison of DNA evidence recovered from storage proved the State had convicted the wrong person. Finally, Dupree is a free man.
Dupree is one of a growing number of convicted individuals proven innocent by the use of DNA evidence. Since 1989, 273 people have been released from prison after DNA evidence proved their innocence, according to the Innocence Project, a national organization whose primary goal is to help exonerate the wrongly convicted. 206 of these individuals were exonerated since 2000, and 17 of the innocent spent time on death row. The exonerated served an average of 13 years in prison before they were released.
DNA – The Genetic Fingerprint
DNA is found in the type of genetic material that may be left behind at crime scenes, including bodily fluids, hair, and skin. Because each person has a unique genetic code, comparisons can be done between DNA found at a crime scene or in a crime victim and the DNA of a suspect, to either identify or exclude the suspect as the culprit.
DNA evidence was not allowed as evidence in court until 1988. It would take another six years for the first state to pass a law allowing inmates to appeal their convictions if DNA testing could prove their innocence. Since that time, nearly all of the states have passed similar laws. Throughout that time, DNA testing and DNA exonerations have increased.
In nearly half of the cases pursued by the Innocence Project, DNA exonerates the convicted, and in over 40 percent of the cases in which a convicted person is exonerated by DNA evidence, that same DNA evidence is used to eventually identify the actual guilty person.
The Problem With Eyewitness Identification
Once considered the best form of evidence, eyewitness identification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions. 75 percent of the convictions that are reversed each year because of DNA evidence were based on eyewitness misidentification according to Innocence Project co-founder Barry Scheck. Of those faulty identifications, 40 percent of them involved cross-racial identification.
In addition to faulty witness identifications, improper forensic testing and false statements provided by suspects and informants are also responsible for many wrongful convictions. The hope is that false convictions can be reduced by using the federal “CODIS” database of the DNA, which stores the genetic records of many state and convicted felons to compare to the DNA collected at crime scenes.
These developments in forensic technology should help defendants avoid losing years behind bars like Dupree. Understanding DNA’s strengths and weakness can be critical to building an effective defense before going to trial. If you have been charged with a homicide, rape or any other violent crime, you should speak with an experienced Riverside criminal defense lawyer who can help you build a strong defense.