A man has been jailed for a historical rape that occurred 26 years ago, The Telegraph reported last week. Mr Carnelley was caught after receiving a caution and having his DNA taken and stored on the national database. The court heard that the probability of the DNA not being his was less than one in a billion and, although he denied the crime at first, he eventually changed his plea to guilty.
Knowing how powerful DNA evidence can be, I have to agree with the Judge Stuart Rafferty QC, who said “Thank heavens sometimes for science.” For now scientific evidence is the only reliable option to prosecute historical crimes. Just think how unreliable eyewitnesses, for instance, can be. How many times have we blamed a wrong person because of a faulty eyewitness testimony, such as in the cases of Adolf Beck and Oscar Slater? Or how many people have been falsely accused due to false memories? Or how many innocent people have been prosecuted with poor evidence? In fact, the last question brings another issue to light – how many offenders have been freed due to insufficient evidence after spending several years in prison? These are the questions that nobody is willing to look at. We were all furious when Alexis Jay report on Rotherham child sexual abuse scandal was published, but we do not know how many of the involved people got away. And we do not know how many of those who were prosecuted are actually innocent. Many of those prosecutions involved historical offences, which are extremely hard to prove.
One of my previous articles provides an external link to an article called “A Juror’s Story”, which describes a juror’s thoughts about a case she was assigned to. There was no physical evidence at all and the whole case was based on the victim’s and the defendant’s testimony. The defendant was found guilty at the end, but the juror believes that nobody could base a reasonable decision on whether the defendant was factually guilty or no. And who knows, maybe he was guilty and the jury and the court got it right, but maybe he was innocent and suffered a miscarriage of justice.
In order to improve the effectiveness of courts when dealing with historical cases, we have to work on lie detection techniques and machines as well as we need to advance DNA testing even further. Lie detection would be the most precise technology to work with; however, human brain still hides too many secrets and such technology is unlikely to be a viable option in near future. DNA testing, on the other hand, is here and we just need samples to prove whether somebody committed an offence or no. Of course, samples deteriorate over time as well as we need a suspect to compare them with, but it is still the safest method of securing a conviction of the factually guilty, such as Mark Carnelley.
You can access the original article on Mark Carnelley here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/01/25/company-director-jailed-rape-26-years-later-dna-match-arrested/