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Why Would Anyone Object to DNA Evidence?
Barry Scheck is the co-founder and co-director of the Innocence Project, a national organization that uses DNA testing to exonerate wrongfully convicted people and implements policy reforms to prevent future injustice. Founded in 1988 under the auspices of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, the Innocence Project has exonerated hundreds through post-conviction DNA testing. Scheck is also famous for having defended notable clients like O.J. Simpson, Hedda Nussbaum, Louise Woodward, and Abner Louima.
Scheck is currently a professor of law at Cardozo and a commissioner on New York's Forensic Science Review Board, a body that regulates all of the state's crime and forensic DNA laboratories. He is first vice president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and serves on the board of the National Institute of Justice's Commission on the Future of DNA Evidence. In 2001, along with Innocence Project co-founder Peter Neufeld, Scheck co-authored the book "Actual Innocence: Five Days to Execution and Other Dispatches from the Wrongly Convicted."
Question: Why would anyone—even prosecutors—object to the widespread use of DNA evidence in all cases?
Barry Scheck: Well this has changed over time. At first when we began our work at the Innocence Project, and there’s a problem within the system generally, there were all kinds of what we call “procedural bars.” To getting a post-conviction DNA test, much less being able to offer the results in court. In fact, there were no states that permitted post-conviction DNA testing and there were only nine states that said that you could raise a claim of newly discovered evidence to show that you were innocent at any time. So many states had time limits, statutes of limitations.
In Virginia, there was an infamous 21-day rule. Twenty-one days after the trial, even if you’d found new evidence of innocence you could put it into court as newly discovered. In other states is was one year or two years or three years or six months. I mean, there were all kinds of problems like this. So we were able to get passed now in 48 states, statutes that allow for post-conviction DNA testing. And Massachusetts is one of the states that doesn’t have a statute, but you can, based on what they call common law, you can usually get a test result, but they should pass the statute.
So the point here is that from the very beginning, there were all kinds of impediments to even getting this evidence into court. And at first when we went into court and we said to the prosecutors, “Oh, well look at this case. There’s an obvious basis to doing a DNA test and it could prove somebody innocent and maybe identify the real perpetrator, why don’t you consent to it?” And in many instances they would. In many instances they did not. Not for particularly rational reasons, I must tell you. Which is really, I guess the subject of your question, why would anybody resist this? Right? And then even after the DNA proof came in, why would prosecutors still say, “Oh no, no, we’re going to uphold the conviction.” And that is a question for cognitive psychology. And a lot of people thought about it. I think there are a number of factors. The first is very simply, it’s human nature. People don’t like to admit they’re wrong. We’re all like that. Number two, and maybe well I don’t want to give Primacy to any of these, they’re all worked together. There’s the problem that when somebody’s convicted, there’s a victim, or a victim’s family in the case of a homicide. And the prosecutor has said, “Well, this defendant is a horrible person, a beast, an animal in some instances they would say, “kill this person, committed this most heinous of crimes.” And now you have to go back to the victim’s family and say, “Guess what. We were wrong.”
Well that’s very difficult for a victim or a family and we see it so often in the sexual assault cases. In particular, there was an eye witness misidentification so hard for somebody that’s been subject to such a brutal crime to now – who made an honest mistake in making a misidentification to now say, “Oh my God, I was wrong.” I mean you feel doubly, triply violated. It’s a horrible burden to carry.
So there’s a lot of reluctance to upset victims within a community. So that’s a second factor that inhibits prosecutors sometimes and police from acknowledging a wrongful conviction or even opposing an effort to get a DNA test.
And then finally, and this may be more subtle, but I think it’s a very, very important factor because in a lot of cases we would find the prosecutor, who was standing in the way of the DNA testing and refusing to acknowledge the obvious implications of the new evidence, wasn’t even in office when the crime was committed. And the reason, I think, that some of these prosecutors were so reluctant to go along with what was I think a clearly just outcome or even to find out the truth or get better scientific evidence that would shed light on the truth, is that they’re afraid of the next case.
So if we have an exoneration in an eye witness identification case and now I’m trying a new case in front of the jury, the jury had just heard about this big exoneration and they’re always big news. They should be too. And they’re going to be thinking; maybe I shouldn’t trust this eye witness. Or maybe that case involved police misconduct, maybe I shouldn’t trust the police. Or it was a false confession; maybe I shouldn’t be so sure that a confession means that somebody is really guilty. And on it goes. So I think that they’re worried about the next case.
The truth is that if you are a prosecutor that has the reputation for going back and looking back at old cases and correcting errors, I think that you’re reputation for reliability goes up.
Sometimes a prosecutor doesn't want to admit that they're wrong. Other times they don't want to face the victim's family after a conviction is overturned.
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Gender and sexual minority populations are experiencing rising anxiety and depression rates during the pandemic.
- Anxiety and depression rates are spiking in the LGBTQ+ community, and especially in individuals who hadn't struggled with those issues in the past.
- Overall, depression increased by an average PHQ-9 score of 1.21 and anxiety increased by an average GAD-7 score of 3.11.
- The researchers recommended that health care providers check in with LGBTQ+ patients about stress and screen for mood and anxiety disorders—even among those with no prior history of anxiety or depression.
Study findings<p>For the study, <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-020-05970-4" target="_blank">published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine</a><em>, </em>Flentje and her team evaluated survey responses from nearly 2,300 individuals who identified as being in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) community. Most of the participants were white, while nearly 19 percent identified as a racial or ethnic minority. Multiple genders were represented with cisgender women (27.2 percent) and men (24.6 percent) making up a majority of the participants. Sixty-three percent had been assigned female at birth. For the most part, participants identified their sexual orientations as queer (40.3 percent), gay (36.5 percent), and bisexual (30.3 percent).</p><p>The JGIM study participants were recruited from the 18,000-participant <a href="https://pridestudy.org/" target="_blank">PRIDE Study</a> (Population Research in Identity and Disparities for Equality), which is the first large-scale, long-term national study focusing on American adults who identify as LGBTQ+. It conducts annual questionnaires to understand factors related to health and disease in this population. </p><p>Participants filled out an annual questionnaire (starting in June 2019) and a COVID-19 impact survey this past spring. Flentje noted that on an individual level, some people may not have experienced a big change in anxiety or depression levels, but for others there was. Overall, depression increased by a <a href="https://patient.info/doctor/patient-health-questionnaire-phq-9" target="_blank">PHQ-9 score</a> of 1.21, putting it at 8.31 on average. Anxiety went up by a <a href="https://www.mdcalc.com/gad-7-general-anxiety-disorder-7" target="_blank">GAD-7</a> score of 3.11 to an average of 8.89. Interestingly, the average PHQ-9 scores for those who screened positive for depression at the first 2019 survey decreased by 1.08. Those who screened negative for depression saw their PHQ-9 scores increase by 2.17 on average. As for anxiety, researchers detected no GAD-7 change among the study participants who screened positive for anxiety in the first survey, but did see an overall increase of 3.93 among those who had initially been evaluated as negative for the disorder. </p>
Risks among gender and sexual minorities<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="fc3fd1ae68b77bbbf58a6995638d6d65"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/EnUqDjCqg0A?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>The LGBTQ+ community is a vulnerable population to mental health concerns because of their fear of stigmatization and previous discriminatory experiences.</p> <p>Previous research by the Human Rights Campaign has found "that LGBTQ Americans are more likely than the <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/general+population/" target="_blank">general population</a> to live in poverty and lack access to adequate medical care, paid <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/medical+leave/" target="_blank">medical leave</a>, and basic necessities during the pandemic," said researcher Tari Hanneman, director of the health and aging program at the campaign.</p> <p>"Therefore, it is not surprising to see this increase in anxiety and depression among this population," Hanneman said in the release. "This study highlights the need for <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/health+care+professionals/" target="_blank">health care professionals</a> to support, affirm and provide <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/critical+care/" target="_blank">critical care</a> for the LGBTQ community to manage and maintain their mental health, as well as their physical health, during this pandemic."</p>
What should health care providers do?<p>The authors of the study recommend that health care providers check in with LGBTQ+ patients about stress and screen for mood and anxiety disorders in members of that community—even among those with no prior history of anxiety or depression.</p><p>As cases of COVID-19 continue to mount, the sustained social distancing, potential isolation, economic precariousness, and personal illness, grief, and loss are bound to have increased and varied impacts on mental health. Effective treatments may include individual therapy and medications as well as more large-scale coronavirus support programs like peer-led groups and mindfulness practices. </p><p>"It will be important to find out what happens over time and to identify who is most at risk, so we can be sure to roll out public health interventions to support the mental health of our communities in the best and most effective ways," said Flentje.</p>
What we know about black holes is both fascinating and scary.
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- A black hole is so massive that light (and anything else it swallows) can't escape, says Bill Nye. You can't see a black hole, theoretical physicists Michio Kaku and Christophe Galfard explain, because it is too dark. What you can see, however, is the distortion of light around it caused by its extreme gravity.
- Explaining one unsettling concept from astrophysics called spaghettification, astronomer Michelle Thaller says that "If you got close to a black hole there would be tides over your body that small that would rip you apart into basically a strand of spaghetti that would fall down the black hole."
The team caught a glimpse of a process that takes 18,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years.
- In Italy, a team of scientists is using a highly sophisticated detector to hunt for dark matter.
- The team observed an ultra-rare particle interaction that reveals the half-life of a xenon-124 atom to be 18 sextillion years.
- The half-life of a process is how long it takes for half of the radioactive nuclei present in a sample to decay.
A new study looks at what would happen to human language on a long journey to other star systems.
- A new study proposes that language could change dramatically on long space voyages.
- Spacefaring people might lose the ability to understand the people of Earth.
- This scenario is of particular concern for potential "generation ships".