What questions does DNA testing raise about the criminal justice system?
We've all seen DNA testing used to determine the guilty party on television in police series. The acceptance of and improvement in DNA testing leads to new questions.
Should Virginia require DNA evidence in criminal cases to determine guilt and/or sentencing?
Is Virginia obligated to test DNA materials to determine the guilt or innocence of someone already convicted of a crime?
Will convictions be harder to obtain in the absence of DNA evidence?
DNA testing raises particularly important questions about capital cases because it highlights the imperfections of the criminal justice system. We know that some men serving time on death row have been cleared by DNA evidence. In 1976 in Furman v. Georgia, the Supreme Court held that the death penalty violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Justice Brennan emphasized that death is a unique punishment in that it is "irrevocable." He wrote of "the common charge, grounded upon the recognition of human fallibility, that the punishment of death must inevitably be inflicted upon innocent men." Four years later, the Supreme Court overturned this decision with Gregg v. Georgia, citing the "community's belief that certain crimes are themselves so grievous an affront to humanity that the only adequate response may be the penalty of death." Virginia today maintains one of the highest execution rates, second only to Texas.
Should the state impose the death penalty without convincing DNA proof?
Should we test DNA evidence for all those already serving time on death row?