Any NY criminal defense attorney can explain very simply the power of DNA in tying suspects to crimes. Unfortunately for a recently arrested Brooklyn man, it does not appear that anyone ever explained this to him. According to the Brooklyn (Kings County) District Attorney’s Office, the Grand Jury indicted Erick Clements about a week ago for Attempted Assault in the First Degree, Attempted Assault in the Second Degree, Attempted Robbery in the First Degree and Attempted Arson in the Second Degree. It is alleged that Mr. Clements “attempted [to] assault…a subway token clerk by trying to light him and his booth on fire during an attempted robbery.” This incident occurred back in November of 2007.
Regardless of the accusation, the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office still must prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. While that proposition might be easier at certain times than other times, in Mr. Clements’ case, the District Attorney’s Office is armed with very powerful evidence. That evidence is DNA.
In this particular case, it is alleged that at the time or shortly after Mr. Clements tried to burn and rob the subway token clerk, Mr. Clements lost his hat and fled. The police recovered the hat and sent it to the lab be tested for DNA. The test revealed DNA and after investigation by law enforcement, the police linked that DNA to Mr. Clements. As a result, over one year later the Grand Jury indicted Mr. Clements.
Although Mr. Clements has a long battle before him, DNA alone does not equate to guilt. Certainly, as stated above, DNA may be overwhelming in many circumstances. However, DNA does not equal guilt and other facts must be addressed. Here, is it possible that Mr. Clements was present when the incident occurred, but he was not involved? Did Mr. Clements run when he saw the fire, lost his hat, but took no part? Was there any other DNA in the hat? Is there video establishing or corroborating that Mr. Clements was there or did someone else have the hat that contained Mr. Clements’ DNA? These are just some questions that are clearly relevant. Not knowing the facts beyond the press release, I am not prepared to answer how, if at all, the answers to these questions specifically changes anything. Irrespective of the facts in this particular case, DNA is a powerful piece of evidence in any criminal case that can implicate and even vindicate the accused.