(OKLAHOMA CITY) — Federal judges met to discuss DNA technology today, but instead of wearing their traditional black robes, these judges donned white lab coats. The judges participated in the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation’s workshop called “Forensic Genetics: A Laboratory Course in Molecular Fingerprinting,” which is a hands-on seminar in DNA technology. This is the second DNA course OMRF has provided for federal judges representing Oklahoma. The judges participating represented the United States District Court, Eastern and Northern Districts of Oklahoma, and the United States Court of Appeals, 10th Circuit.
“DNA evidence is relatively new to the legal world, gaining attention during the last fifteen years. Through this course, we hope to explain the science behind DNA and give the judges a first-hand look at these genetic identifiers,” said OMRF President J. Donald Capra, M.D.
DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is the material that makes genes. Like fingerprints, DNA is becoming a standard tool in the courtroom. A small sample of hair, blood or skin recovered from a crime scene can usually confirm whether the material came from the person accused of the crime. DNA evidence is now widely used in rape and murder trials. Thus, judges are increasingly asked to rule on the scientific merits of DNA evidence in cases.
Judge Stephanie Seymour, Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals, 10th Circuit, said: “Today, the most critical issue for the courts to consider is using DNA testing on defendants who have been accused of a crime. Accurate DNA testing has exonerated people falsely accused and convicted.” She added: “After we conducted our own experiments in the laboratory, I was surprised with the ease of the procedure.”
At today’s seminar, the federal judges received first hand experience with the science behind DNA technology. They were given white lab coats and taken to a laboratory at OMRF where they extracted a sample their own DNA. Next they enlarged the DNA, examined a section, and compared it to variations in the human population. This variability, extended to many different genetic positions, is the basis of DNA testing. With the best evidence, DNA testing can narrow the sample to one in one million in the population.
The judges were instructed by Judith James, M.D., Ph.D., an Assistant Member in the Arthritis and Immunology Section at OMRF and an Assistant Professor at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center Department of Medicine. Judges participating in the seminar included:
The Honorable Thomas R. Brett
The Honorable Michael Burrage
The Honorable Claire V. Eagan, Magistrate Judge
The Honorable Robert H. Henry
The Honorable William J. Holloway, Jr.
The Honorable Sven Holmes
The Honorable Sam A. Joyner, Magistrate Judge
The Honorable Terry C. Kern, Chief Judge
The Honorable James Payne, Magistrate Judge
The Honorable Stephanie Seymour, Chief Judge
The Honorable Kim West
Digital photographs of the seminar are available upon request.