The District Attorney’s office’s review of cases is a start, but there is still much work to be done to ensure justice for defendants whose cases are affected by outdated DNA protocols.
I’ve previously discussed my work on a writ of habeas corpus for my client Florencio Dominguez involving the use of invalid DNA techniques by the San Diego Police crime lab. I announced in October 2017 that the court had granted the writ and overturned my client’s murder conviction.
Last week, based on the work done on Mr. Dominguez’s case, San Diego district attorney Summer Stephan announced the DA’s office has identified 254 convictions that may have been affected by the invalid DNA techniques. They notified trial counsel on each case with a “Dear Counsel” letter informing counsel that their case may have been affected by the changes. Orange County is conducting a similar review.
This is monumental news with implications on a national scale. It has been covered extensively in the local press, including
San Diego Union Tribune (click to read), reported by Greg Moran
ABC 10 News San Diego (click to read), reported by Adam Racusin
NBC San Diego (click to read), reported by Paul Krueger
This is great work by the District Attorney’s Office and I applaud them for taking this necessary step to address the problem of pre-2010 DNA mixtures. I do still have some concerns and thoughts moving forward.
San Diego is not the only jurisdiction using faulty DNA methods
Florida, Texas and Washington DC have all had to address this same issue. Other jurisdictions throughout the country might have similar problems, but no one has bothered to raise the issue yet. Other jurisdictions need to take notice of what is going on here in San Diego and determine whether they also have cases that are affected.
Collaboration across agencies is needed
The San Diego District Attorney, the Public Defender’s Office and the private defense bar all need to come together and work collaboratively on how to handle the 254 identified cases. We also need to work collaboratively on identifying more cases not covered by the initial review.
Inducement of guilty pleas with invalid evidence
Finally, per the “Dear Counsel” letter, the District Attorney case review only included cases that went to trial. The vast majority of cases in the criminal justice system do not go to trial. Instead they resolve after a guilty plea. This begs the question, how many cases are there where the client’s guilty plea was induced by invalid DNA evidence. The DA and the San Diego Police Crime Lab need to find a way to identify not only affected cases that went to trial, but also affected cases that were resolved via a guilty plea.