Over the last several years the nationwide DNA database has expanded exponentially, and has been credited with solving a number of "cold" cases. Typically the database is used to obtain a match - leading to a conviction. What happens though when a defendant wants access to the database to prove someone else committed the crime?
If you know anything about the criminal justice system you can guess the answer - you're out of luck. The New York Times recently had a story about a defendant in West Virginia which illustrates the problem. Joseph Buffey was a 19 year old young man who confessed and plead guilty to raping an 83 year old woman. After claiming for years that he had been forced to plead guilty he was able to have DNA evidence tested - which excluded him. He then wanted to take the next step - trying to prove who the actual rapist was.
It's a simple enough process - you submit the DNA test results to the database, and see if there is a match. The problem is a criminal defendant cannot make that request. So Mr. Buffey's lawyers did what you would expect, and asked the judge to order it - which he eventually did over the State's objection. After going back and forth, the State finally backed down, and the results were submitted.
As the Times story shows, this a problem across the country. There really isn't a good reason for not allowing defendants access to the database. The State should be interested in achieving the correct result - even it means upsetting a conviction. If the wrong person is convicted, someone got away with it - and they probably committed other crimes.
It's time to allow defendants access to the DNA database, but other databases as well. The same issue exists with fingerprints - unidentified prints may be matched, but you will never know unless they are run. If the goal is to get it right, then all available resources should be utilized.