The FBI identified nearly 170 profiles in a national DNA database that probably contain errors, some the result of handwriting mistakes or interpretation errors by lab technicians, while New York State authorities turned up mistakes in New York's database, the New York Times reports. The discoveries, submitted by the New York City medical examiner to a state oversight panel, show that the capacity for human error is ever-present, even when it comes to the analysis of DNA evidence, which can take on an aura of infallibility in court.
The errors so far implicate only a tiny fraction of the total DNA profiles in the national database, which holds nearly 13 million profiles, more than 12 million from convicts and suspects, and an additional 527,000 from crime scenes. Still, scientists said the disclosure of scores of mistaken DNA profiles at once appears to be unprecedentedd. In some cases, the discovery of an error enabled authorities to identify new suspects in cold cases. One discovery breathed new life into the investigation of a man found bludgeoned to death in the Bronx in 1998. It also led to new matches in two rape cases in New York City in the 1990s, although the statute of limitations for prosecution appears to have expired.