Nov 14

Alan Staines Exonerated Of 2004 Burglary By Discovery Lab Misidentified Him As Source Of Crime DNA

Alan Staines outside court after his burglary conviction was set aside on Nov. 13, 2017. (Heather McNeill)

Alan Staines outside court after his burglary conviction was set aside on Nov. 13, 2017. (Heather McNeill)

Alan Staines’ 2004 burglary conviction in Perth, Australia was overturned on November 13, 2017 by the Supreme Court of Western Australia. The Court ruled Staines’ conviction was a miscarriage of justice based on new evidence a laboratory misidentified him as the source of crime scene DNA. The ruling written by Justice Stephen Hall stated that without the “erroneous DNA evidence … there would have been no ‘prima facie’ case against him.”

Staines can now pursue compensation from the government of Western Australia.

After the hearing Staines told reporters outside the courthouse: “I’m glad it’s all over now. It’s a bit of a shame it took so long, but once it’s done, it’s done.”

Justice Denied published an article about Staines’ case on May 13, 2017, after the lab’s error was discovered. That article follows:

Alan Staines Cleared Of 2004 Burglary Conviction Caused By Bungled DNA Identification
May 13, 2017

Alan Staines has been cleared of a 2004 burglary in Perth, Australia. More than a dozen years after his conviction, the lab that conducted the DNA test of crime scene evidence discovered it misidentified him as matching the evidence.

The police collected blood stain evidence during their investigation of a home invasion in Perth’s southern suburbs in late 2004. The burglar bled from a cut while breaking into the house.

PathWest, the government owned and operated forensic laboratory for Western Australia, conducted a DNA test of the blood stains. A DNA profile was obtained from the blood, and it was uploaded to the Australian DNA database. The profile matched a man named Alan Staines.

The Western Australian Police were provided with the information, and in December 2004 they arrested 21-year-old Alan Staines at his home in Perth. Staines had a police record of several misdemeanor convictions: shop-lifting, driving without a licence, and petty drug possession.

Staines insisted he was innocent of the burglary, and had a solid alibi for being elsewhere at the time of the burglary. He told the police he was with two friends, who corroborated his alibi, and they provided a picture of the three of them together that had a date and time stamp for that night.

However, Staines pled guilty on the advice of his lawyer that the DNA matching of the crime scene blood to him was damning evidence, and he faced up to three years in prison if convicted after a trial. Staines was given a one-year jail sentence suspended for 18 months of good behavior.

In April 2016 the PathWest lab informed the Western Australian police they had discovered that in 2004 Staines had incorrectly been identified as the source of the crime scene DNA. The lab explained the error occurred because his name was the same as the man whose DNA was matched to the crime scene evidence, but the lab failed to notice they were different people with different birth dates.

The Alan Staines who matched the crime scene evidence is 13 years older than his namesake, and he is a career criminal. His record of offenses is 10 pages long, and includes multiple convictions for home burglaries, and an escape in 2013 from the Karnet Prison Farm, south of Perth.

PathWest discovered the error when the Alan Staines who was the actual culprit was arrested for a crime that resulted in the testing of his DNA, and the lab discovered there were two Alan Staines — and the wrong one had been linked to the 2004 burglary.

However, it wasn’t until April 21, 2017, a year after they learned of PathWest’s mistake, that the WA police informed both the Director of Public Prosecutions and the innocent Staines, that he had been erroneously identified as the burglar.

On April 27 WA Attorney-General John Quigley gave a press conference during which he admitted Staines’ conviction was a miscarriage of justice. Quigley said the government would not oppose Staines’ appeal to have his conviction quashed based on the new evidence of his innocence.

Western Australia’s Bar Association President Matthew Howard announced he would represent Staines pro bono in his appeal.

There were two immediate responses by government agencies in Western Australia to the Staines case.

First, “potential serious misconduct” by the WA police in waiting for a year to inform Staines and the Director of Public Prosecutions about discovery of the lab error, was recommended for referral for an investigation by Western Australia’s Corruption and Crime Commission.

Second, it was announced the Public Sector Commission would review random samples of work by PathWest’s Forensic Biology Department from 2002 to 2017 to ensure compliance with protocols and procedures.

During an interview with The West Australian Staines, now 34, said his burglary conviction had prevented him getting a number of jobs, and it strained family relations. An aunt who had her house broken into even falsely accused him of the burglary. Staines, the father of six, is working as a sheep shearing contractor in a remote part of Western Australia with his two youngest children and his partner. He said he would be seeking compensation from the government.

November 14, 2017
By Hans Sherrer
Justice Denied

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