The discovery of DNA profiling is fairly regarded as the revolution in the history and evolution of criminal justice. Although DNA-based methodology has been widely spread in medicine, patient care, and medical research, the use of DNA in forensics and criminal justice has become possible only at the beginning of the 1980s. Currently, a whole set of DNA databases work to facilitate the processes of criminal investigation and justice all over the world, and whether we are able to improve the quality of all criminal justice procedures will depend on our ability to expand the scope of DNA coverage in all spheres of criminal investigation.
In 1983 one of the practicing geneticists from the University of Leicester Alec Jeffries proposed to use human materials that contained DNA for criminal investigation purposes. In other words, the biological material containing DNA could be readily used to identify who had committed the crime (Nelkin & Lindee, 2004). Jeffries was confident that in the process of separating DNA from the biological material, it could be compared to the suspect’s DNA.
Given the variations which specific DNA sequences display in different human populations, these differences and similarities could be used as the subject of criminal research (Nelkin & Lindee, 2004). Despite the uniqueness and the novelty of the procedure, it was before the end of the 1980s that DNA served to solve one of the notorious murder cases in the history of Britain. That is why the discovery of forensic DNA fingerprinting has come to signify “the greatest forensic breakthrough since the advent of fingerprinting at the turn of the century” (Nelkin & Lindee, 2004).
Until present, DNA profiling and fingerprinting have been the two most reliable techniques forensic professionals use in the process of identifying the criminal. Simultaneously, forensic laboratories recognize that DNA methodology is far from being infallible, and actively work to reduce the probability of a statistical error in the process of testing DNA. The first official DNA database was created in Britain in 1995 (Barak, 2007).
While the British national database currently contains DNA profiles for more than 5 percent of national population, the percentage of DNA profiles in the U. S. national database does not exceed 0. 5 percent (Barak, 2007). Nevertheless, in the present day system of criminal justice the DNA technology is effectively used for dragnets or mass screening, where a group of individuals who fit general description are requested to provide a sample of their DNA for forensic analysis (Barak, 2007). Furthermore, DNA is widely applied for familial searching, which is used “in cases in which a crime-scene profile has failed to match a suspect profile on the national DNA database” (Barak, 2007).
To a large extent, familial searching involves investigating and analyzing the DNA profiles which are similar to those identified at the crime scene. Forensic and criminal justice professionals strongly believe that these similarities are readily visible among the suspects’ relatives and can thus lead them to solving the most problematic crimes. Certainly, these applications of DNA methodology are not without problems; and a whole set of ethical and confidentiality issues are involved into the process of using DNA profiling to investigate the crime.
Simultaneously, the benefits of DNA fingerprinting outstrip its drawbacks, and professionals in criminal justice remain increasingly committed to the idea of expanding the scope of DNA profiling use in all aspects of crime investigation. Due to its utility, DNA variation analysis has become a universally accepted method of investigating crimes. The usability of DNA profiling goes far beyond the needs of criminal justice professionals. In numerous civil matters, the use of DNA profiling is justified by the need to identify victims of natural disasters and mass casualties.
Lazer (2004) suggests that “use of DNA profiling as an exculpatory tool and as powerful inclusionary evidence cannot be underestimated as it provides, in some cases, the make-or-break evidence freeing incarcerated inmates or sealing the fate of defendants in jury trials”. The use of DNA profiling may also become a matter of one’s life. Unfortunately, there is a whole range of old unresolved cases which would potentially benefit of the development and improvement of the current DNA practices, but the system of criminal justice lacks sufficient number of DNA professionals.
Also, the system of criminal justice lacks sufficient funding which could potentially work for the benefit of forensic research in the field of DNA profiling. Despite the rapid development of computer technologies and the progress which criminal justice has made through the development of DNA tracking software, all these achievements lose their relevance if not managed by high quality personnel. Finally, criminal justice professionals find it difficult and almost impossible to provide proper storage for DNA evidence (Lazer, 2004).
Despite these evident inconsistencies, DNA profiling in criminal justice has promising future. In the light of the growing number of criminal cases, as well as the increasing sophistication of crime as such, the use of DNA mixtures, STR profiling and SNP assays will improve the quality of sample handling (Lazer, 2004). The development of new more effective DNA profiling techniques will reduce the time and cost criminal justice professionals currently need to extract and identify each specific DNA sample.
Given the uniqueness of DNA for each individual, this technology is likely to remain the most reliable tool of criminal investigation in the nearest decades. Conclusion DNA profiling remains one of the most reliable crime investigation techniques. Due to the uniqueness of each DNA sequence, criminal justice professionals are increasingly committed to using DNA to solve the most problematic criminal cases.
Despite the problems and limitations which are associated with the use of DNA, the latter is likely to remain the central tool of criminal investigation and justice in the coming decades.
Barak, G. (2007). Battleground: Criminal justice. Greenwood Publishing Group. Lazer, D. (2004). DNA and the criminal justice system: The technology of justice. MIT Press. Nelkin, D. & Lindee, S. M. (2004). The DNA mystique: The gene as a cultural icon. University of Michigan Press.