Cincinnati Police Department Agrees to Audit of Its DNA Database
The Innocence Project of New York, along with the Cincinnati, Ohio, law firm of Gerhardstein & Branch (collectively “Plaintiff’s Counsel”), negotiated a settlement on September 14, 2020, wherein the Cincinnati Police Department (“CPD”) agreed to an unprecedented audit of its DNA-based homicide cases.
The settlement emerged from a 2018 civil rights lawsuit filed by Plaintiff’s Counsel on behalf of Joshua Maxton.
Maxton spent over a year in jail until a jury acquitted him of murder. During trial, the defense learned for the first time that the Cincinnati police were informed seven months earlier that DNA evidence from the crime scene resulted in a “CODIS hit” for alternate suspect Dante Foggie. A CODIS hit is a match of DNA submitted to the FBI’s CODIS database, which is a compilation of more than 18 million DNA profiles taken from people convicted of crime across the U.S.
The terms of the settlement provide that an audit team, overseen by court-appointed Special Master Ronald Safer, will conduct “a comprehensive investigation into a subset of homicide cases to determine whether DNA evidence obtained by the CPD was properly disclosed to persons, as is required by law.”
Covering cases from June 2011 to June 2018, the audit seeks to determine whether a CODIS hit matched DNA to a person other than the accused/convicted person, and if so, was the evidence disclosed to the defense. Any undisclosed DNA matches will be provided to the convicted person or that person’s last-known counsel. The cases will be reviewed by Safer, a team of pro bono attorneys and students from the Ohio Innocence Project. The settlement also provides that Safer will confer with numerous stakeholders in Hamilton County, Ohio, to recommend improvements for timely disclosures of DNA/CODIS evidence.
Nina Morrison, senior litigation counsel for the Innocence Project, said: “This settlement is historic. It acknowledges that Josh Maxton sat in jail for more than seven months on a wrongful murder charge, even after police were notified of DNA evidence that supported his longtime claim of innocence. It also provides a novel and rigorous process to determine if other innocent people in Cincinnati were convicted of crimes they did not commit.”