This project is a South African leg of the United States of America’s Innocence Movement which has already exonerated 250 wrongfully convicted prisoners.
Professor Sean Davison of the University of Western Cape’s Biotechnology Department and Head of the Forensic DNA Laboratory said that there was a need for such an institution in South Africa. “It is inconceivable that there aren’t any innocent people in our jails,” he said.
In the United States, the average time spent in prison by those wrongfully imprisoned has been 13 years. He said that in 170 cases they were able to identify the real perpetrators. The cases of the exonerated were useful in learning that 79% were convicted because of eyewitness error, 25% gave a false confession, 60% were arrested due to erroneous such as hair testing and 18% was convicted because of a cellmate’s evidence (jailhouse snitch).
Davison said that the South African Project has two aspects to it. There is the legal aspect and the research and development (science) aspect. The science aspect will deal with “the testing of dilapidated DNA. This is DNA evidence that would have been collect 20 years ago before DNA testing was admissible in South African courts.
The research and development aspect is geared towards inventing a rape perpetrator identification kit. This would help fast track rape trials and ensure that only the guilty are incarcerated.
The project will also start a DNA database in South Africa. It will start by collecting the DNAs of all prisoners so that DNA generated from future crimes can be first compared the ones stored in the database. This will only be possible if the South African Parliament passes the vote that allows it.
He said that although DNA is useful in proving one’s guilt or innocence, it was also important to understand that DNA evidence were easy to plant on the crime scene. Davison cited the famous OJ Simpson murder case where it was recently discovered through DNA testing that the police planted the deceased’s blood on Simpson’s clothes and car.
All the cases that the Innocence Project takes on will be pro bono.
Listen to Davison’s presentation here: Innocence Project