DNA Evidence is an integral part of Crime Scene Investigation today. There is a need for its proper understanding and implementation. Otherwise, the technology would be useless to convict erring criminals. At worse, the possibilities of wrongful conviction are there. The three journal articles presented forms part of the current literature on the matter. Each of the three articles deals with different law enforcement entities that use DNA as evidence. A review of these articles is meant by the author to contribute to the growing body of literature meant to foster greater understanding on the matter.
PROBLEM “How does DNA evidence lead to conviction and wrongful conviction in criminal trials? ” Show of Interest DNA evidence is an interesting topic for me. Today, our idea of what the criminal justice system looks like is shaped by the myriad of multimedia exposure we receive everyday. Everyday, we see crime scene investigation portrayed in a slew of television shows and movies. Personally, I have watched a couple of series that have portrayed these investigations from the more standard national geographic shows to the more popular C. S.
I series in the United States and abroad. In these shows, more often than not, we hear the phrase “DNA evidence” being found in the clothes of the accused suspects, their bodily secretions and the like. DNA evidence is more properly known as deoxyribonucleic acid. It is found in the nucleus of the different kinds of cells that make up the human body. It is common knowledge that DNA is unique to the individual. From the shows, we realize that it is a kind of evidence that has been accepted in our courts to a certain level and has been used to convict criminals.
As a matter of fact, it is an important tool in crime investigation these days. In the movies, we often see how this kind of evidence has lead to the conviction of criminals. However, I have often been left asking in what instances does this kind of evidence lead to wrongful convictions. When we talk about real life, what do crime scene investigators look for? What do agents in the field need to know in order not to wrongfully convict innocent bystanders and even the accused? Goal The basic goal of this paper is to go through a review of current literature to answer this problem.
The field of DNA evidence has been in existence for quite some time. However, the techniques and methods used in the field constantly changes with technology. By reviewing these new updated journals in the field, it is my goal to find an adequate answer to the problem. Literature Review For the review of current literature, we refer to journals by the National Institute of Justice. This institution is the research, development and evaluation agency of the US Department of Justice. It is dedicated to researching crime control and justice issues.
The institute provides objective, independent, evidence-based knowledge and tools to meet the challenges of crime and justice, particularly at the State and local levels. NIJ's principal authorities are derived from the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, as amended (see 42 USC § 3721-3723) and Title II of the Homeland Security Act of 2002. (National Institute of Justice Website; 2007. ) The problem of proper conviction or the non-conviction through the use of DNA evidence is a problem that is current and at issue today.
It is current because to date, it is one of the leading sources of evidence in use in crime scene investigations. However, it is not to say that DNA evidence is not open to abuse as well. The improper use of DNA evidence may lead to wrongful conviction if unchecked and non-conviction if it does not follow the proper procedure. Even though DNA evidence has been in use by the law enforcement field operatives and recognized by the criminal justice system, the proper collection, use and invocation in trials is still not pervasive enough within the system.
To date, many trial lawyers, prosecutors and even law enforcement practitioners are still not well-versed in the use of this fairly new technology. The three journal articles to be tackled by this research give us insight and information into this problem. The first journal is entitled: “DNA Evidence: What Law Enforcement Officers Should know. ” It is a collection of the basics of DNA Evidence and it shows the things that officers in the field should know and exercise. Obviously, the name suggests what law enforcement should and should not do in handling DNA evidence.
The manner of proper handling results in either a conviction, non-conviction or a wrongful conviction. (NIJ, 2003) The proper procedure in handling DNA evidence is crucial. The journal divides the handling into phases. First, there is crime scene procedure. Second, there is collection and preservation. Third there is elimination of samples. Fourth, there is evidence transportation and storage. Last, there is DNA testing. At the crime scene, one must realize that there are a wide variety of biological evidence present.
This means that evidence, even though not visible to the naked eye, can be present. An example would be saliva, semen, hair, and even blood samples in a sexual assault. These samples can be located at various spots in the crime scene including carpet, mattresses and other surfaces. These samples are compared against the DNA of the victim, suspect or other potential suspects who may have had access to the scene. Another way is to compare such samples with CODIS or the Combined DNA Index System to identify a suspect or to link serial crimes.
During Collection and Preservation, officers take to mind that proper collection is needed for a successful testing. Contamination is a key factor to watch out for. DNA evidence can be contaminated by even sneezing or coughing over the evidence. The journal article contains a list of items to follow in order to avoid contaminating evidence. This list includes wearing gloves, using disposable instruments, avoiding touching any area where DNA might exist and even air-drying evidence thoroughly before packaging.
All these are taken to mind because proper documentation and preserved DNA evidence will be given increased weight in court. In elimination of samples, the officers would compare the DNA found in the crime scene to those who might have had access to the scene. DNA evidence from these people would be compared to that found in the scene of the crime. As such, suspects can be eliminated. In rape cases, investigators may need to collect and analyze the DNA of every consensual sexual partner the victim had up to 4 days. Extreme sensitivity must be made when approaching the victim to get the required information.
In transporting and storing these DNA evidence, great care must be given to avoid spoilage. Once again, contamination is at issue when tackling storage and transportation means. DNA evidence should be kept dry and at room temperature. It should be place in paper bags or envelopes and then sealed, labeled, and transported in a way that ensures proper identification and documents a precise chain of custody. This means that the officers know where and when the DNA passed through before its testing or presentation in court.
Direct sunlight, heat and humidity also harm DNA evidence. In DNA testing, the most common way to do such test is by way of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique. Polymerase is an enzyme involved in the natural replication, or copying of genetic material. A small amount of DNA evidence can be replicated using this technique in order to be capable of being tested. However, if the DNA evidence is contaminated, the replication process will include this contaminated amount. In such cases, the evidence will most likely lead to inconclusive findings.
As can be seen from the article, the proper collection, handling and testing of DNA evidence is crucial. If this is not done, the evidence may be contaminated. Contaminated DNA evidence holds little evidentiary weight in court. As such, in response to our problem, we see that a properly collected DNA evidence would lead to conviction while contaminated evidence will lead to non-conviction and at worst wrongful conviction. The problem of wrongful conviction arises when contaminated DNA evidence is given much weight in court.
This arises when the officers of the court trying the case are not well-versed with the technology. This happens when a judge improperly admits DNA evidence or when a defense attorney fails to note the probable contamination that has happened in the course of the investigation. Our next article addresses this issue by suggesting online DNA training to target lawyers and judges. (Schmitt, 2007) The article recognizes that in today’s criminal justice system, DNA evidence is such a powerful tool that it must be carefully wielded an properly understood.
DNA technologies, techniques and analysis presents new challenges to prosecutors, defense lawyers and judges. The article coined the term “CSI Effect” to explain the current increased expectations of jurors that forensic science will solve an increasing number of cases. The continuing advances in the field have prompted this. Also, states have continued to pass laws that expand their DNA databases to include all felons and even persons arrested for crimes. Several programs are already in motion by the Department of Justice in order to pass on information to lawyers and judges regarding the field.
This includes an online training program entitled Principles of Forensic DNA for officers of the Court. The program includes 15 modules that deal with a wide range of topics dealing with DNA analysis. The stress on using online training decreases the training costs for judges and public and private sector criminal lawyers. It uses a multimedia approach including text, images, animations, audio and video. This article clearly shows how the justice system is trying to cope up with the use of this new technology.
Clearly, this effort is meant to curb wrongful convictions in light of the use of DNA evidence. Furthermore, such education is seen to help further the justice system to be more efficient in prosecuting crimes. In light of all these advances and efforts for checks and balances, the last article I chose was meant to show how DNA plays a part as a solution to crime solving of minor crimes. The last article is entitled: “DNA Analysis for ‘Minor’ Crimes: A major benefit for law enforcement”. With the advent of DNA technology, its uses have also expanded.
The article points out how the use of DNA evidence to process minor crimes such as burglary and auto theft have resulted in successes in NIJ pilot programs. These pilot programs were located in Miami, New York and Palm Beach. This initiative came after successes were made in England. Conclusion The three articles reviewed show the various ways by which DNA should be properly collected, stored, and handled. (NIJ, 2003) After such processes, we have the trial phase where trial lawyers and judges must properly access and handle these evidences.
(Schmitt, 2007) The recognition of the proper procedures set by law are crucial to the proper conviction or non-conviction of the accused. These are much needed especially in today’s world where DNA evidence is used not just in violent crimes but in smaller crimes as well. (Zedlewski, 2006) Clearly, the proper understanding of DNA evidence is needed to avoid wrongful conviction. In conclusion, we have to realize that existing research on DNA is already an ever-expanding body of work. However, the misunderstanding that comes with this new technology is also evident.
The officers of our criminal justice system must not only be well-informed but must be well-versed with the system as well. The research problem I am addressing deals with one of the most basic yet often mistaken parts of DNA research. The proper collection, handling, and storage of DNA and its importance to solving crimes are very forgotten. Contamination and improper handling leads to problems in using this powerful tool. It is hoped that this research adds as a contribution to the already existing body of knowledge by providing an insight to lay reader regarding the potential benefits and proper use of DNA evidence.
References DNA Evidence: What Law Enforcement Officers Should Know. July 2003, National Institute of Justice Journal, Issue No. 249, 10-14. National institute of Justice Website. What is NIJ. Retrieved last April 20, 2007. From http://www. ojp. usdoj. gov/nij/about. htm. Schmitt, Glenn R. Online DNA Training Targets Lawyers, Judges. National Institute of Justice Journal, Issue No. 256. Zedlewski, Edwin. DNA Analysis for “Minor” Crimes: A Major Benefit for Law Enforcement. January 2006. National Institute of Justice Journal. Issue no. 253.