Beyond the Walls of the Laboratory: Judge and Jury Interpretations, Perception, and Understanding of DNA Evidence

Janne A. Holmgren, University of Calgary

ABSTRACT
The development of new and controversial techniques, such as DNA analysis in criminal trials has turned courtrooms into scientific laboratory forums. Judges and jurors are often the ones attempting to understand sophisticated jargon and are unable to challenge the expert witnesses themselves. This paper examines the problems faced by judges and jurors in dealing with criminal cases involving DNA evidence. It also reports on the results of four separate focus groups consisting of Crown counsel, defence counsel, judges and members of the public. The findings suggest that judges and jurors (members of the public) find DNA evidence overwhelming, difficult to interpret, and difficult to understand and as a result tend to assign too much value to this type of evidence compared to all other evidence presented at trial. The paper concludes with recomendations on how to bridge the gap between science and the courtroom.

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Updated 05/20/2006