AUSTRALIA – Two people convicted of rape, one of drug trafficking, and one of armed robbery could be freed after a review of DNA evidence in their cases.
One of the four has been in jail for rape for four years.
And just last week, a woman was acquitted on appeal of a drugs charge after the DNA case against her fell away.
Hundreds of cases involving DNA are being reviewed after a more conservative approach was adopted towards analysing DNA evidence.
Police Association secretary Greg Davies today said it was unclear whether current investigations would be affected.
But he said such a result would be “unfortunate in the extreme’’
“Obviously we will have to wait and see,’’ Mr Davies said.
“But if it did impact adversely on ongoing matters that would be very unfortunate and cause a lot of distress to a lot of victims not to mention police officers that have worked hard to bring matters to the courts.
“If some sort of irregularity was to derail those investigations or court proceedings it would be unfortunate in the extreme.”
Kelly Hazell Quill Lawyers director Justin Quill said anyone acquitted as a result of the review would likely have problems suing.
But any payout could be significant.
“If these people are found to have been wrongly convicted, then they might have a case against the state,”Mr Quill said.
“Although they would have to show not just that there was a wrong result, but that there was something wrong with the system.
“That might not be that easy.
“So while you might have sympathy for them, that doesn’t necessarily translate into a legal right to compensation.
“If they were successful though, any damages award would likely be substantial.”
Late last year, it was found that statistical analysis of DNA evidence had not kept pace with technology.
This led Chief Commissioner Simon Overland to ban police forensic scientists from giving evidence for a month, while a review of procedures took place.
Since then, forensic evidence in 370 of 430 cases still before the courts has been reviewed.
In five, the statistical strength of the DNA evidence was reduced. One of those was the case of Florina Alecu.
She was given a 21-month suspended jail term after being convicted of cultivating cannabis in a water tank beneath a shed at a hobby farm in Litchfield, in the Mallee, in 2006.
She was linked to DNA on a gardening glove found nearby.
The jury at her 2008 trial was told the likelihood of the DNA being from someone chosen at random, rather than her, was one in 10,000. Forensic scientists rated this evidence as “very strong”.
But under the new methodology, that statistical likelihood fell to just one in nine.
Last week, the Court of Appeal ruled the new DNA report “largely (if not wholly) obliterates” what was “an important strand in the cable that was the circumstantial case against her”.
The prosecution conceded there should be a retrial. But as her suspended sentence had almost expired, the court directed an acquittal instead.
Her de facto husband, Jim Theoharethes, is serving at least two of four years’ jail over the case.
The Director of Public Prosecutions, Jeremy Rapke, QC, is believed to have been advised last week that new DNA reports in the four other current cases, where the DNA likelihood had been reduced, would be provided by month’s end.
Charges in at least one other case have been dropped after the new DNA statistical analysis left it too weak to proceed.
At the DPP’s invitation last year, nine closed cases, where lawyers regarded the DNA evidence as potentially doubtful, were also submitted for review.
A reassessment of the evidence in the first five, including a murder and a rape, has cleared those convictions.
A police spokeswoman told the Herald Sun that work was continuing on a national standard in DNA interpretation and the force was “rolling out new procedures that will enable it to interpret low-level DNA profiles with even more confidence than (now)”.
“It should be noted that in a vast majority of cases Victoria Police will not proceed if DNA is the sole source of evidence,” she said.
Farah Jama was awarded $550,000 compensation this year after serving 16 months’ jail for a rape he didn’t commit. A DNA sample had been contaminated.
A revised analysis reduced the statistical likelihood of the DNA belonging to someone else from one in 800 billion to one in 150 million.
Retired judge Frank Vincent, who conducted a government inquiry into the case, said in his report that he was “troubled by such an extraordinary variation”.