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Can DNA results ever work to a defendant's advantage?

A great deal of stock is placed on the contributions of science in fighting crime. You see it all over prime time television. It's the basis of all the CSI franchise shows that grace the airwaves. Especially in cases where someone is facing sexual offense allegations, science-savvy investigators bring the truths of science to bear to provide evidence that allows prosecutors to claim a defendant is guilty, without a doubt.

But one of the things that it's possible to forget is that the same science that prosecutors leverage to try to prove a suspect's guilt may prove a suspect's innocence. Knowing when to pursue that kind of strategy in fighting sexual offense charges is a skill developed by experience.

As evidence of how helpful scientific evidence based on DNA results can be you need look no further than the record of the Innocence Project. According to the group's website, as of the end of last year, at least 325 individuals have been exonerated as a result of DNA evidence.

Sometimes the issue has been shown to be that techniques of testing at the time a conviction was obtained were not so reliable. In others, as in the instance of the 325th exoneration, prosecutors had also failed to provide evidence to the defense that would have pointed to the defendant's innocence.

Twin Cities residents might have caught a column that appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press this past weekend. The piece focused on the mystery around the number of rape kits that remain in police hands and that haveĀ never been processed.

Authorities acknowledge that they don't know how many such samples might exist. Nor do they really know why they wouldn't have been tested. The column observes that getting to the root of this issue is important because of the potential the tests offer in identifying assailants. But it also points out that testing holds the possibility of exonerating those wrongly accused.

Could that latter point be one reason kits have gone missing?

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