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Human Genome News Archive Edition

Human Genome News, July-September 1996; 8:(1)

Searching for Truth in the Court System

In 1995, over 15 million criminal and civil cases were filed in U.S. federal and state courts.

The federal court system is small, with about 550 trial judges who preside in U.S. district courts and around 180 appellate judges. Federal courts, whose judges are appointed for life, hear about 2% of all cases filed. The remaining cases fall to about 29,000 judges presiding over separate and autonomous state court systems. Many of these judges are elected to office for a specified term. The overwhelming majority of cases involving law enforcement, commerce, and human relations are decided in state trial courts.

Observers are concerned that neither court system is prepared to handle cases involving complex genetic information. If courts can't screen and present the science so that juries can understand and process it in a fair way, verdicts may appear to lack foundation and create a crisis of public confidence in the courts. "The battle of experts often impedes the search for truth," notes Judge Ronald Reinstein (Superior Court of Arizona). "Judges have a responsibility to be proactive and mandate clarity and simplicity."

Arizona courts have adopted far-reaching jury reforms that permit jurors to ask questions, take notes, and discuss cases as they develop. Most courts do not, said Franklin Zweig (EINSHAC). "Too frequently," he added, "courts blind, gag, and otherwise limit jurors. Jury reform must keep pace with judicial screening of scientific evidence." In 1997, Arizona is expected to host the first large regional working conversation on genetics for judges and lawyers.


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Human Genome Program, U.S. Department of Energy, Human Genome News (v8n1).

Human Genome Project 1990–2003

The Human Genome Project (HGP) was an international 13-year effort, 1990 to 2003. Primary goals were to discover the complete set of human genes and make them accessible for further biological study, and determine the complete sequence of DNA bases in the human genome. See Timeline for more HGP history.

Human Genome News

Published from 1989 until 2002, this newsletter facilitated HGP communication, helped prevent duplication of research effort, and informed persons interested in genome research.