DNA Evidence and Eyewitness Testimony

OPB | July 19, 2010 9 a.m. | Updated: Sept. 10, 2013 9:32 p.m.

Larry Davis and Alan Northrop spent 17 years in prison for the 1993 rape of a woman in La Center, Washington even though, from the beginning, they denied committing the crime. They got the Innocence Project Northwest to take on their case, and the group’s lawyers and students spent years pursing DNA testing on physical evidence from the victim until their innocence was proven. Last Wednesday a Clark County judge dismissed the charges against Davis and Northrup, and after nearly two decades behind bars they became free men.

New evidence produced through post-conviction DNA testing has led to over 200 exonerations nationwide, and has cast a spotlight on the flaws in eyewitness testimony and visual memory that lead to wrongful conviction.

Not everyone sees DNA evidence as concrete proof of innocence, however. John Fairgrieve, the Clark County prosecutor on the Davis-Northrup case, cautions against viewing DNA evidence as an “ironclad alibi.” Sometimes, he argues, an individual can have knowledge about a crime that constitutes strong evidence, even if it can’t be tested in a lab. “Reliable evidence,” says Fairgrieve, “comes in many different forms.”

Have you followed the Davis-Northrup case? Have you ever been an eyewitness to a crime? What do you think about the increasing use of DNA testing?

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