DNA analysis is the most rigorously tested and documented forensic science today and sets the standards by which all other forensic disciplines are compared. Its discriminatory capability and reliability is unmatched by any other forensic science discipline. Yet, when presented in court, judges, attorneys and analysts alike struggle to understand or effectively present the technology. Prosecutors and defense attorneys with large caseloads and severe time constraints wrestle to comprehend even the basic concepts. Prosecution and defense bars spend countless dollars attending training seminars on “how to handle” DNA evidence. The extensive and well documented research of DNA science, and the standard which have been applied to forensic DNA laboratories, has resulted in limiting the available attacks against it in court. The remaining attacks generally originate from identification/collection, contamination, and statistical analysis. Many of the issues giving rise to such challenges are well beyond the scope or control of the analysts. Those that are within their control have their roots in documentation and presentation.
Effective courtroom testimony is a critical component of the analysts’ duties. The ability to communicate effectively an understanding of the science, technology, and tests involved with a particular case to non-scientist is essential. Maintaining objectivity, professionalism and scientific integrity is absolutely necessary and will avoid many of the pitfalls that analysts may otherwise face.
Upon successful completion of this unit of instruction, the student shall be able to do the following:
- Be familiar with the courtroom structure and personnel within the court
- Be aware of basic courtroom procedures and protocols
- Possess a basic understanding of the rules of evidence, discovery, and admissibility
- Be aware of the general qualifications necessary before being allowed to testify as an expert witness
- Be familiar with the appropriate demeanor and attire while providing testimony
- Be familiar with the settings and how to present technical testimony & evidence
- Be cognizant of the ethical considerations when presenting DNA related testimony and the impact of providing faulty or erroneous evidence
- Possess basic techniques for handling hostile attorneys
The laws, rules of evidence and rules of procedure may vary from Court to Court and State to State. The analyst should always check with an attorney (normally the prosecuting attorney) before giving testimony to be aware of the particular law and rules applicable in the jurisdiction. The content of this module is not intended, nor should it be construed, as legal advice.
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