Post-Conviction Innocence Work Relies on Sound Science and Forensic DNA

Post Conviction Success Stories

“It was like meeting a family of people that I didn’t know I had,” says Amanda Knox, criminal justice reform advocate, of her first meeting with members of the Innocence Project. “It was like they were a bridge between me and the rest of humanity.”

Exonerated in 2015 by Italy’s highest court for the 2007 murder of her roommate, Knox spent eight years on trial and four in prison, convicted based on faulty DNA evidence and coercive investigative techniques. She now works to bring awareness of wrongful convictions and the importance of sound science and forensic DNA to bring justice to the wrongly convicted. She will be the keynote speaker at the 2024 Bode Forensic Conference, June 25-28 in Atlanta, Georgia.

“There is an assumption that DNA doesn’t lie, that those investigating are independent,” says Knox, “But that isn’t always the case.”

When told by Italian investigators that her DNA was on the murder weapon, Knox remembers wondering if she was being framed, because it was impossible. Yet due to harsh interrogation techniques and a deeply flawed interpretation of crime scene evidence, experts involved in her trial had been led to a radically different conclusion than what was true. It wasn’t until her appeal that independent experts who reviewed the DNA evidence confirmed what Knox had said all along: She was innocent.

BODE 2024 Annual Conference Keynote Speaker Amanda Knox

The Challenge of Post-Conviction Work

Post-conviction forensic DNA testing is an important part of Bode Technology’s work. Through sound and impartial science, Bode supports Innocence Projects throughout the country as they seek to secure appeals and exonerations for the wrongly convicted.

Wrongful convictions are often rooted in cognitive bias, with false confessions, coerced pleas and official misconduct being major contributors. In the 1980s, when DNA as an investigative tool was introduced and allowed for post-conviction DNA testing, the misapplication of forensic science also became a factor.

Known as the “CSI effect” due to the way forensics and law are portrayed on TV, often there is an assumption that crime scene DNA analysis, regardless of the circumstances, will be definitive. Juries may overlook simple explanations for how an individual’s DNA was obtained from a crime scene sample. Forensic DNA can be complex, including mixtures that need to be elucidated and identified. Depending on the condition of the evidence when collected, the length of time before testing as well as prior storage conditions, DNA evidence may also become severely degraded and require specialized techniques to obtain useful results.

“People have the idea that crime scenes are full of DNA evidence, that the process is super easy,” says Knox. “But it’s not, and it can be dangerous when DNA interpretation is filtered through a human lens.”

Bode’s Support of Innocence Project Advocacy

Forensic DNA has a huge impact on post-conviction advocacy, helping to right wrongs and to prove innocence in cases where investigations have gone awry. In determining the truth through DNA evidence, Knox says, a foundation is laid for someone in her position to be believed. “I was an indirect victim of this crime before I became a victim of the criminal justice system. We must use science responsibly and change coercive interrogation methods so that this doesn’t happen in the future.”

Bode Technology provides independent forensic DNA testing and analysis in support of post-conviction cases using a combination of advanced sampling techniques and DNA methods that are optimized for the recovery of DNA from challenging evidence. Bode then applies a full suite of testing options including STR, Y-STR, mitochondrial DNA and mini-STR analysis. For complex mixtures, Bode utilizes probabilistic genotyping to assist in the deconvolution of up to 4-person mixtures. All of this is complemented by Bode’s team of experienced forensic investigative genetic genealogists.

“Our Bode team pursues science based on cutting-edge technology,” said Deanna Lankford, Bode’s Forensic Casework Director. “We take that responsibility seriously and bring the highest scientific standards to our work. It’s incredibly heartening when our scientists help correct a miscarriage of justice and change the lives of wrongfully convicted people.”

Independent and Unbiased

With a solid track record in post-conviction testing, Bode is a sought-after forensic DNA partner in part because of its superior technical capabilities and its independence as an unbiased, third-party laboratory.

“Bode is committed to generating scientifically accurate results and leveraging the strength and experience of our R&D teams and casework analysts,” says Erin Sweeney, Vice President of Forensic Operations at Bode Technology. “Not only is Bode accredited by ANAB to the ISO 17025 and FBI Quality Assurance Standards, Bode stands at the forefront leading with industry best practices and technological innovation. Our extensive validations and stringent protocols focus on mitigating cognitive bias and other risks to ensure the reliability of the work.” Bode’s independence, commitment to quality and sound science ensures results that withstand scrutiny. 

As a criminal justice advocate, the most notable thing for Knox about the use of DNA evidence in post-conviction work is the ability for DNA technology to prove that something went wrong in in the investigation. “From there we can question everything that happened up to that point,” she adds.

For information on Bode’s 2024 Forensic Conference, visit https://www.bodeconference.com/