DNA evidence is the “genetic fingerprint” that has become the gold standard of the criminal courtroom, propelled to prominence by its featured role in popular television crime dramas, says the Baltimore Sun. Jurors have taken an increasingly dim view of cases that lack DNA or other key forensic evidence, and prosecutors often must caution that not every trial produces damning genetic traces. Yet even when it does, prosecutors still struggle to win guilty verdicts in cases involving sex crimes.
Of the 85 sexual assault cases involving DNA that resulted in criminal charges over a three-year period in Baltimore, nearly 40 percent have been dropped. About 26 percent resulted in a conviction, and the rest are pending. Sex crimes are notoriously difficult to prosecute, even with DNA evidence, and problems can be heightened in years-old, cold cases. Many victims who initially indicate that they will testify change their minds as court dates near. Multiple postponements and a choked court docket mean that few cases go to trial, and plea deals bring relatively little prison time. Juries, meanwhile, are reluctant to believe the testimony of accusers who have criminal records. Says Adam Rosenberg of the Child Abuse Center, a former city sex offense prosecutor: “We do a tremendous job protecting the rights of defendants, but the victims are thrown around. That’s why some of these cases, no matter how good they are, end up getting pled out or dropped.” At best, law enforcement officials say, a DNA match can help prove that sexual contact took place.