What if forensic evidence was not so scientific? What if investigators could use DNA found at a crime scene to put together a sketch of a suspect that includes bone structure, hair and skin color, other facial features, and even ethnic origin? If it sounds like something you would see only on CSI, you might be surprised. DNA phenotyping is a new technique being used by law enforcement agencies to create a physical likeness based simply on genetic material. Police naturally see the potential of this technology to put away bad guys, but what if it isn't as scientific as it sounds? And worse, what if it's convicting innocent people? In a recent National Geographic article, critics say that this technique and many others that have long been used, like fingerprints, bite-mark analysis, and hair analysis, are not scientific at all. What's worse, they may be no more reliable than eyewitness testimony and sketch artistry, likely suffering from the same issues of vagueness and inexactitude that routinely prove to be fatal flaws for those techniques.
In Oakland County, one of the most notorious alleged crime sprees is one that remains unsolved. Between 1976 and 1977, four children, two boys and two girls, were found murdered on Woodward Avenue between Ferndale and Birmingham. The media referred to the murderer as the Oakland County Child Killer. A recent breakthrough has brought the case back in the spotlight. FBI investigators have linked evidence, specifically hairs found the backseat of Arch Edward Sloan's vehicle with hairs found on two of the four victims. A Mitochondrial DNA test was used to match hairs. This is the first breakthrough that links at least two of the children's murders to each other.
A recent criminal case in Metro Detroit reminds me of the wonderful children's book Alice in Wonderland. In one of my favorite parts in the book, the Knave of Hearts is put on trial for stealing the Queen's tarts. In the midst of the trial, the Queen emphatically shouts out, "No, no! Sentence first - verdict afterwards."
The Michigan House recently passed a bill that would require police to record all interrogations of serious felony cases, such as murder and armed robbery. Supporters of the bill say this requirement will make the system more honest and fair. Based on my personal experiences as a prosecutor and defense attorney, I agree.