In an earlier article, I wrote about some of the troubling aspects of the prosecution of Amanda Knox and Raffeale Sollecito in Italy. The failure to tape the interrogations, the arrest and prolonged imprisonment of Lumumba, the destruction of critically important computer hard drives, and mistakes in the handling of evidence and in crime scene control are just a few of the more important ones. An even more troubling issue is presented by the failure of the Italian authorities to abide by well established standards for disclosure of laboratory testing data.
In this case, a key issue has been certain DNA test results purportedly obtained by a police laboratory in Rome. The laboratory was not properly certified at the time the tests were conducted and a number of questions have been raised about the use of extraordinary lab procedures and the lack of documentation. A more basic problem is presented by the adamant refusal of the Italian authorities to make basic laboratory data available to the expert consultants for the defendants so that they can evaluate exactly what was done in the lab.
In the process of DNA testing, the relevant testing instruments produce electronic data files (EDFs) which provide raw data documenting exactly what was done in the lab. There are other important lab documents and files as well, but the EDFs seem to be regarded as the fundamental source of basic information. In that sense, they are a little bit like accounting work papers in cases in which accounting issues are important or the "box" which is recovered after an airplane crash and provides detailed information on exactly what the plane was doing.
It is universally agreed that these EDFs are essential to a meaningful review of a lab’s work and of the validity of its conclusions. The American Bar Association has issued standards for DNA use and these standards provide for the discovery of EDFs. In this case, numerous DNA experts have indicated that the EDFs are essential to an evaluation of the lab’s work.
So…….where are they? Apparently, the prosecution has adamantly refused to turn them over to the defense and the Italian prosecutorial/judicial bureaucracy has been unable to bring itself to require the prosecution to make them available. It has been a long fight and the prosecution’s resistance to providing what is generally regarded as basic information has been extraordinary.
Thus, once again, we must ask ourselves. What exactly is going on behind the walls of Perugia? It seems odd that documentation which could be easily put on a CD ROM and turned over at little expense is being suppressed. It is hard to avoid having a suspicion that the prosecution may have something that it is very, very reluctant to expose. Could it be that the EDFs would completely undermine the prosecution’s DNA case? Of course, in an unbiased tribunal, the DNA case would be thrown out because of the prosecution’s failure to produce the EDFs. In Italy, that may or may not happen – so far, the prosecution’s stonewalling seems to have been vindicated.
Could it be that the EDFs would reveal something much worse? Would EDF’s reveal tampering with the evidence and what would be the implications of that? In the United States, when misfeasance has been discovered in a crime lab, it often leads to the reversal of numerous convictions which have been based on the use of evidence from that lab in the past. Could that be the problem here?
Just as it would be nice to have a videotape of Amanda Knox’s interrogation so that we wouldn’t have to argue 5 and 1/2 years later about what actually happened and it would be nice to have the hard drives so we wouldn’t have to speculate about what we would found on them if they hadn’t been erased by the police, so too it would be nice to have the EDFs so we wouldn’t have to guess why the Italian prosecutors want to suppress them.
My prediction. The EDFs will never, ever be turned over. The reluctance of the prosecution suggests the existence of something they find very scary in those files. I can’t really speculate about what it is because I may want to travel to Italy some day. I think readers are just going to have to draw their own conclusions.