MKG-newLast week on 13 August 2014 the High Court handed down two decisions in criminal matters, one dealing with expert evidence and the admissibility of that evidence, and the other on a similar topic, DNA evidence.

In respect to DNA evidence this case was called Fitzgerald v The Queen [2014] HCA28, and involved the murder of a victim where a number of people were involved. The only evidence that tied Mr Fitzgerald to the scene was his DNA evidence that was on a didgeridoo. There were no witnesses to put him at the scene of the crime or any other evidence apart from this one piece of DNA. There was however evidence that Mr Fitzgerald had, during the course of the day, been in contact with other persons that were convicted of the murder and had been also in the same room as the didgeridoo.

Expert witnesses said that insofar as the DNA evidence was concerned, that it was possible that it was transferred from a person that Mr Fitzgerald had been with during the course of the day or, it was also possible that Mr Fitzgerald left it on the didgeridoo earlier in the day.

On this basis the High Court held that it could not be established, beyond reasonable doubt, that Mr Fitzgerald was present at and participated in the murder, and a conviction based solely on DNA evidence, with these particular facts was not sound.

There was a similar case in Germany that was known as the Phantom of Heilbronn or the Woman without a Face. Between 1993 and 2007 there was DNA evidence of a lady found at numerous crime scenes which included six murders. The Police thought that they were dealing with a female criminal mastermind that had committed murders, burglaries and armed robberies across Austria, France and Germany.

It turned out that the DNA was that of a lady that worked in the cotton bud factory in Bavaria that manufactured the cotton buds that the Police were using and they had not been properly sterilised before being distributed by the factory.

Next week I will talk about another case that involves expert evidence.

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