The Sad But True Case of Earl Washington
DNA Analysis and the Criminal Justice System
Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering
Colorado School of Mines
In 1983, Earl Washington "confessed" to a violent crime that he did not commit and was sentenced to death row. After spending seventeen years in prison for something he didn't do, Earl was released in 2001 after his innocence was proven through the use of modern DNA technology. This clicker case guides students through the wrongful incarceration of Earl and explores the biological mechanisms behind DNA profiling and using DNA evidence in criminal cases. Students will answer clicker questions about the criminal justice system, the polymerase chain reaction, agarose gel electrophoresis, and STR analysis, and ultimately will be able to use DNA profiling methods to match a suspect to a crime scene. Students also will be able to explain how learning biology is important even for non-technical careers. The case was developed for a lower-division introductory biology course for majors and non-majors students, but it could also be used in more advanced courses if time is dedicated to analyzing PCR, electrophoresis, and STR analysis.
- Explain how PCR is used to amplify DNA molecules.
- Predict the size of a DNA molecule using gel electrophoresis.
- Explain how STRs are used in DNA profiling.
- Use DNA profiling results to match a suspect to a crime scene.
- Evaluate the use of DNA profiling methods in criminal investigations.
KeywordsDNA profiling; PCR; electrophoresis; STR analysis; crime; crime scene; criminal investigation; forensic investigation; forensics; criminal justice; injustice; wrongful imprisonment; death row
Topical AreasEthics, Legal issues, Social justice issues
Educational LevelHigh school, Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division
Type / MethodsClicker, Directed, Interrupted
Subject HeadingsBiology (General) | Biotechnology | Molecular Biology | Forensic Science |