The Role of DNA Evidence in Crime Prevention

Like the traditional fingerprints, DNA evidence can help exculpate innocent suspects and incriminate the guilty. Police try to match DNA patterns of blood, hair, or semen stains found at the scene of a crime to past offenders. DNA evidence was first used in a criminal case in 1985. For about a decade and a half now, it has been possible to match body fluid traces left by a suspect at crime scene with samples taken from a suspect, using DNA analysis. The technology is becoming more sophisticated, inexpensive and expeditious every year.

Since the early nineteen nineties, the police have been granted new powers enabling them to build up a national DNA database containing the genetic details of individuals. The establishment and growth of a DNA database of criminal population is often regarded as the most significant of recent scientific developments in the prosecution of crime. II. A strong deterrent to crime The importance of biological evidence has grown rapidly in the past two decades. Eyewitness accounts have often been viewed as unreliable or biased, and the courts have looked for more objective criteria to determine guilt or innocence.

DNA analysis may independently and objectively link a suspect or victim to a scene or to each other. The police have powers to take bodily samples form a suspect for the purpose of analysis and comparison with any samples found at the scene of the crime. A suspect may be identified by undertaking a speculative search to confirm whether there is a match between a crime stain and details already held on the DNA database of a previously convicted individual. A match will be expressed in terms of a mathematical probability of coincidence between the crime stain and the bodily sample of the suspect.

The increased threat of being identified can thus become a potent discouragement to potential criminals (Balding 2005). DNA evidence not only increases the certainty of detection of criminal offenders, it also simplifies and enhances the swiftness of process of identifying criminals. Equally important is that innocent people can be cleared of crimes by the evidence, and there have been scores of individuals whose lives were saved when their convictions for crimes including murder and rape were reversed based on DNA evidence, even after serving years of undeserved sentence.

Thanks to the increasing role played by DNA techniques in crime detection, there are greater chances today more than ever for justice to be delivered, and delivered in time. The rise of numerous types of violent crimes is kept under check by means of DNA analysis. III. Growing acceptability and popularity DNA matching has proven to be the deciding factor in solving a great number of crimes in recent years, especially sexual assault cases. It has revolutionized the criminal justice system and brought closure and justice for victims.

Federal, state, and local lawmakers have begun to focus attention on DNA evidence and ensure that the crime-fighting professionals, including forensic experts, have adequate tools to harness the power of DNA. The element of infallibility associated with DNA evidence and its unrivaled ability to solve crimes have led to determined effort and financial investment to significantly increase the use of DNA evidence in court and as a tool of detection. The perception that DNA evidence is infallible is becoming increasingly prevalent in media and popular culture.

Portrayals of DNA being able to solve heinous crimes almost instantaneously, and importantly, beyond any doubt (even from ‘beyond the grave’) are becoming more and more common. DNA evidence is often a powerful, and nearly conclusive, forensic evidence establishing a case against the suspect. The evidence obtained by DNA profiling is widely regarded as conclusive, and it is possible for a suspect to be convicted solely on the basis of DNA evidence even if there is not other supporting evidence (Buckleton et al. 2005). IV. Technological advancement

In the mid nineteen nineties, DNA analysis cost thousands of dollars and took months to get results, today it can be done for under $50 in a matter of days. Ten years ago, it took a bottle cap of blood for forensic scientists to do the tests. Now, testing can be done with a sample the size of a pinhead. Prior to the widespread use of DNA testing in crime laboratories, a forensic serology and immunology were employed to identify the source of the biological evidence, to determine if the sample was of human origin, and then to include or exclude an individual as a potential source of that sample.

As more forensic laboratories developed DNA capabilities over the past decade, serological methods have been significantly scaled back or eliminated. Today, DNA testing is easy, efficient and 99. 9 percent accurate. The changes in DNA technology are remarkable and mark a sea change in how forensic science can help us fight crime (Lee & Tirnady 2003). V. Legal and administrative measures The DNA Identification Act of 1994 was included in the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.

The DNA Identification Act authorizes the FBI’s director to gather DNA information in the following instances: 1) on persons convicted of crimes, 2) on samples recovered from crime scenes, and 3) on samples recovered from unidentified human remains. DNA information is to be made available to 1) criminal justice agencies for law enforcement purposes 2) for judicial proceedings (if deemed admissible), and 3) for criminal defense purposes.

The DNA database may be used for other purposes (e. g. , population statistics, research, quality control), if identifying information is removed, i. e. , on an anonymous level More recently, the Congress proposed new federal legislation (the Advancing Justice through DNA Technology Act of 2003), passed legislation such as DNA Analysis Backlog Elimination Act of 2000, and held several hearings that focused on DNA and sexual assault crimes and oversight of the forensic sciences. Further, several national and international committees have been formed in the recent years to address the use of DNA in criminal cases, and extensive studies have been conducted in this area. VI.

National and international DNA database Vast DNA database already exist at state and national levels to help police departments in their fight against crime. Since about 1990, law enforcement agencies in the United States have been collecting DNA samples from convicted criminals. The FBI already has a national database of DNA profiles of a few hundreds of thousands of convicted violent offenders. In addition, all 50 states have statutes that require biological samples to be taken from convicted felons, and over 4 million felon profiles have been collected.

A majority of states now collect DNA from all felony convictions, and some even mandate the collection of DNA from all arrestees. In 2002, all 50 states were linked to the national DNA databank system, CODIS (the Combined DNA Index System), which now contains approximately 3 million felon profiles and 100,000 forensic unknown profiles. The national CODIS databank allows states to compare suspect profiles that have not matched state of local databanks to the profiles from all 50 states in the national repository.

In England, legislative reform and case law since the advent of criminal DNA profiling in the late 1980s, and the inception of the England and Wales National DNA Database (NDNAD) in 1995, has repeatedly expanded the list of those from whom DNA samples may be taken. Further, down the years, the authority required to sanction and perform sampling has been downgraded; access to the database has been increased; also, samples were permitted to be retained indefinitely. Provisions in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 permitted the taking and retention of the fingerprints and DNA samples from all arrestees.

VII. Global database in future The DNA Databases are thus rapidly expanding in America and European countries. The next major challenge in using DNA evidence for preventing crime is to extending the database scheme to cover the whole population. It would be a very ambitious, massive and futuristic project. It would inevitably meet with opposition, but perhaps not as much as might be imagined because most people can easily see the potential benefits for the society as a whole. The major benefit would of course be related to a significant reduction in serious crime.

Although the price of a global DNA database would be a level of infringement of civil liberty that many people may find unacceptable, the advantages of it would be too obvious to the majority of people. It would be such a boon to society when predatory rapists and murderers are seriously thwarted by the prospect of almost certain identification. Not leaving any form of DNA evidence at the crime scene or on the victim is not as easy as not leaving finger prints by wearing gloves and taking minimal precautions.

As the technology improves, even the minutest or microscopic shreds of body material may help identify the perpetrator. Though this is not in itself sufficient to prevent robberies, sexual assaults and other types of violent crime, the narrowing margin of escape would put potential criminals in a tight spot, thus forcing them to mend their ways. Instead of facing resistance, a future global database may actually be welcomed by most people, since having their identity registered in the DNA database may automatically eliminate them in a number of possible crime situations where they may get accidentally involved.

People could be eliminated from police inquiries without even knowing their involvement was suspected. Thus it is conceivable to start working on a global DNA database on purely a voluntary basis, which would not infringe anyone’s freedom. In fact, a number of reformed ex-criminals are realizing that there are benefits to being part of a DNA database. The U. S. Forensic Science Service often receives requests from previous offenders who would actually like to go on the database so that they can be quickly cleared when new offenses occur.

In the near future, new governmental provisions are likely to emerge which would include volunteers on DNA databases, effectively extending the database project beyond the criminal population (Smith 2005). With increasing and seemingly unstoppable menace of crime to our society, we are not in a position to afford to not to have a global DNA database. DNA analysis must be exploited to its full potential, which can only happen with global database. In the future, it may be possible that the DNA identity of every child is registered on birth just as routinely as birth certificates are issued today.

References: Balding, D. J. (2005). Weight-of-Evidence for Forensic DNA Profiles. Hoboken, NJ : John Wiley & Sons. Buckleton, J. S. , Triggs, C. M. & Walsh, S. J. (2005) Forensic DNA Evidence Interpretation. Boca Raton, FL : CRC Press Lee, H. C & Tirnady, F. (2003). Blood Evidence: How DNA is Revolutionizing the Way We Solve Crimes. Cambridge, MA : Perseus Publishing. Smith, G. (2005). The Genomics Age: How DNA Technology Is Transforming the Way We Live and Who We Are. New York : Amacom Books