Justice and Science: Trials and Triumphs of DNA Evidence

Justice and Science: Trials and Triumphs of DNA Evidence

Justice and Science: Trials and Triumphs of DNA Evidence

Justice and Science: Trials and Triumphs of DNA Evidence


Databases of both convicted offenders and no-suspect cases demonstrate the power of DNA testing to solve the unsolvable. George "Woody" Clarke is a leading authority in legal circles and among the news media because of his expertise in DNA evidence. In this memoir, Clarke chronicles his experiences in some of the most disturbing and notorious sexual assault and murder court cases in California. He charts the beginnings of DNA testing in police investigations and the fight for its acceptance by courts and juries. He illustrates the power of science in cases he personally prosecuted or in which he assisted, including his work with the prosecution team in the trial of O. J. Simpson.

Clarke also covers cases where DNA evidence was used to exonerate. He directed a special project in San Diego County, proactively examining over six hundred cases of defendants convicted and sentenced to prison before 1993, with the goal of finding instances in which DNA typing might add new evidence and then offered testing to those inmates.

As Clarke tells the story of how he came to understand and use this new form of evidence, readers will develop a new appreciation for the role of science in the legal system.


Sherlock Holmes, Sam Spade, and Jessica Fletcher spent careers tracking down suspects responsible for committing crimes. The fact they are fictional characters is of little significance. Their tools—like those used by real-life detectives and investigators—saw little change from the nineteenth century to modern times. Revolutionary changes to the world of detectives and investigators are rare. Interrogation, eyewitness identification, and other police techniques have been honed and improved. But few dramatic changes have taken place in the world of solving crime.

Fingerprints were universally hailed as one of the most significant new weapons placed at the disposal of law enforcement. But their utility is limited to the relatively few cases in which fingerprints are left at crime scenes and can be discovered. Tests to determine whether guns have been fired by a suspect, hypnosis, and even voiceprints have been used in investigations with mixed and controversial results. But when science joined with law enforcement and the legal system in 1986, the justice system began a transformation like no other it had ever experienced.

Any thought prior to that time that nucleotide sequences, restriction enzymes, and capillary electrophoresis would hold the key to solving murders and rapes would have been beyond fantasy. Yet each would later prove to be a critical element in determining whether a suspect, defendant, and even a convicted prison inmate could have been responsible for a serious crime. The reopening of old criminal cases—both those unsolved and those in which a defendant convicted years earlier claimed innocence—suddenly became possible. Examination of those cases would often provide dramatic and surprising results.

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