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Monday, July 28, 2014

Put a price on DNA testing for inmates

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

The latest tool in the arsenal of the accused involves DNA testing. The headlines have been devoted to the handful of cases where the new scientific tool has proven the innocence of the defendants. In those cases - isolated as they are - we commend the scientific community and law enforcement for this effective, apparently fool-proof tool. But what about the other criminals who demand a DNA test knowing full well they are guilty. Up until now there was actually no reason against seeking a DNA test. Who knows?

But now at least one member of the legal community in Missouri wants to end these wild goose chases and charge defendants when the DNA tests prove their guilt. How about charging inmates for DNA testing when it's obvious they are just grasping for straws on the scant chance the DNA test may free them?

DNA testing costs taxpayers about $2,500. In the great scheme of things that may not be an exorbitant amount. But when thousands of defendants request tests even though they are guilty, the system is being abused.

For now, we'll assume that DNA testing is virtually fool-proof. Of course even that level of expertise does not always fly with a jury - remember O.J. Simpson? But assuming the test reveals the truth, there are instances where the tests should be funded by taxpayers to remove all doubts in a case. But with this growing technology also comes the potential for abuse. Thus you will soon have hundreds and then thousands of defendants requesting the costly tests. If they have nothing to lose, why not?

By putting a price tag on the tests - just for those whose guilt is reaffirmed by the tests - maybe we can reduce the abuse to the system. This technology is the modern version of the frivolous lawsuit where a defendant is looking for any avenue to free him from prison. And if it burdens the judicial system, it's wrong.

No one wants innocent men and women behind bars. But even the most liberal reasoning believes that only a small fraction of those incarcerated are indeed innocent. In those instances, DNA testing is clearly the right thing for society to undertake. By attaching a price to the tests, the abuses may well diminish.

We've reached a point where technology dictates much of our actions. We believe it will make for a better tomorrow. But technology is a two-edged sword. Keep that in mind.



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