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“Once you’re convicted, you’re done”

“Once you’re convicted, you’re done”

Tricks of the Trade

Based on the results of her thesis research, Jaya Godhwani (24), student of Forensics, Criminology and Law (FoL) aims to set up an ‘innocence project’ in her homeland India to exonerate those who were wrongfully convicted through DNA testing.

“In European media much has been said about the inadequacy of the Indian legal system. Especially when it comes to rape cases. But not much is known about how DNA materials are used, or about how many suspects are wrongfully convicted. The aim in my thesis was to show what is lacking in the legal system of my home country, by comparing some Dutch cases with those from India. My main finding: Forensic experts in India often draw the wrong conclusions from DNA tests.

Luckily, in the Netherlands there is a law, which regulates the use of DNA in criminal investigations. When it turns out that a test was performed incorrectly, like in the Deventer Murder Case, the Supreme Court can decide to reconsider. After all, there are many ways in which a suspect’s DNA can end up on the blouse of a strangled wealthy widow.

“In India it doesn’t work like that. Once you’re convicted, you’re done. Your case will stay closed forever. This is something I would like to see changed. So the next step is to take the results from my thesis a bit further. With the help of professor Peter van Koppen, I want to set up an ‘innocence project’ in India, in which old cases can be studied for new evidence, so that individuals who were wrongfully convicted through DNA testing can be exonerated. Hopefully, in the long run, this enlarges the knowledge about the complexity of DNA evidence, and leads to adjustments in our laws. Because, as Edmund Burke said: ‘Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny.’”

Iris Fraikin

In this series, students talk about their inspiring (research) projects

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