To describe ethics in forensic science, let me first give a definition of ethics. According to
Webster’s II New Riverside University Dictionary, ethics is defined as: 1. A principle of right or
good behavior. 2. A system of moral principles or values. 3. The study of the general nature of
morals and the specific choices an individual makes in relating to others. With that being said, is
ethics practiced when it comes to forensic science? I am pretty sure it is in most cases, but I am
not here to write about most cases; I am writing about one particular cases where clearly ethical
practices were not used.
On May 1995, Allen Coco was arrested for aggravated rape, two counts of aggravated
burglary, and one count of simple burglary. One count of aggravated burglary and the simple
burglary charge were dropped prior to his trial, along with several other charges in other cases in
which he had become a suspect. Mr. Coco’s alleged victim stated she had been raped by a man
who broke into her home after she fell asleep watching television. The attacker held a knife to
her throat during the rape and at some point she was able take the knife from the attacker, who
tried to escape through a broken window, but somehow became tangled in the blinds. Even
though the victim was able to stab him in the buttocks, the attacker subsequently escaped.
Police actually constructed a sketch of the attacker, but even though the victim found it
unsatisfactory, she continued to view it. About a month after the rape the victim was shown two
photo arrays containing both another suspect and Mr. Coco. Using the faulty sketch for
reference, the victim identified Mr. Coco as her attacker.
There was evidence in this case that should have helped Mr. Coco, but some was not
available at the time. There was a DNA sample that was taken from the victim that was too
small for testing in 1997. In 2006, the Innocence Project of New Orleans (IPNO) paid for the
DNA sample to be analyzed again. The DNA did not match Allen Coco and on October 12,
2006, Allen Coco walked out of a Lake Charles jail after serving 11 years for a rape he did not
commit. DNA testing conducted by a private laboratory had excluded him as the perpetrator in
March, however, the State of Louisiana resisted his release for seven months, despite the fact that
subsequent testing by a State crime laboratory arrived at the same conclusion in July.
As far as ethics goes in this case, there were a lot of things that were missed that could quite
possibly have changed the outcome of Mr. Coco’s life. First off let’s start with the crime
laboratories. We already know the DNA sample was too small for testing, but whose
determination was that? Since the early 1990’s DNA profiling techniques have progressed to the
point at which traces of blood, semen stains, hair, and salvia residues left behind on stamps,
cups, bite marks, and so on have made possible the individualization or near individualization
of biological evidence (Criminalistics, An Introduction to Forensic Science, 9th ed.). When the
perpetrator was trying to escape the victims home, he was stabbed in the buttocks which
produced blood that was left on the blinds. State experts testified that blood found at the scene,
including that found on the blinds, was of the same type as that of Mr. Coco. Mr. Coco’s blood
type had to be A negative because it was stated his blood type was the same as 6 percent of
African Americans and according to www.lifeshare.org 6 percent of the African American
population has blood type. I guess it’s a good thing some of the male members of my family
who are A negative weren’t in Louisiana at this time because apparently, no testing was
performed on the rape kit or the victim's clothing to make sure they had the right person.
References: Saferstein, Richard (2007).
Criminalistics: an introduction to forensic science, 9th Ed, page 11
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