I don't like it. Sure, a DNA match is statistically more certain than a name and eye-witness identification, but the movement towards indicting suspects by their DNA leaves me with an unsettled feeling. As I've asked before, where does it end?
The New York Times said city officials will review DNA evidence from hundreds of sex crimes committed years ago, seeking indictments even when the suspects' identities aren't known, as a way of beating the 10-year statute of limitations.Statutes of limitations are important for a great many reasons, not least of which is the fact that it can be impossible to defend oneself against an accusation of wrongdoing that was committed many years previously. Witnesses and investigators die or become unavailable; evidence can be lost of corrupted; memories fade or change over time.
The first 600 cases will involve crimes committed during 1994, but officials said they believe DNA-based indictments will allow them to arrest suspects no matter how far in the future.
Perhaps DNA acquisition, storage, and analysis procedures are completely rock-solid, but they aren't intuitive to the average layman. I saw John Smith steal my purse. Yes, that's his picture. Everyone can understand such testimony, and everyone has the carefully developed intuition that is required to discern truth from fiction. That's not the case with DNA evidence. Jurors would need to place their entire trust in the invisible and complex scientific process that handles DNA matching, and that's difficult to do. DNA is mere evidence, and evidence can be lost or tampered with -- words from a real human being who tells what he saw will always carry more visceral weight.
It's important for trials to be open and public, and one aspect of that openness is simplicity. Laymen need to be able to understand the entire chain of reasoning and evidence that leads to a suspect's arrest, trial, and judgement, or the public will lose faith in the system. Consider the pre-cogs in Minority Report -- even if they were correct 100% of the time, society would never tolerate such an opaque justice system, nor should it. It is eminently preferable that some criminals go free than that the public either blindly accepts an inscrutable legal system (ahem!) or loses faith in the system entirely.