DNA as a Key Witness Essay
DNA as a Key Witness
Criminals, often unknowingly, leave parts of themselves behind. These pieces are not always visible to the untrained eye. Hair, skin, blood, and fingerprints all contain elements that are unique to each person. It is with DNA testing and fingerprinting, that criminals can be identified and crimes can be linked. This system of testing and matching has become the “most essential and reliable method of catching criminals” in the United States (Lynch 67). Advancing technology is not only solving crimes, but also deterring them. DNA profiling, genetic fingerprinting, and DNA testing are all names for the same process and are used interchangeably. These terms all refer to the technique used by scientists to identify and match the genetic code (or DNA) of people. DNA is highly similar among humans, but there are always pieces of the coding that are distinguishably different and exclusive to each person, aside from identical twins (Lazer 9). Samples of genetic code are logged into easily searchable, computerized files called databases; searching these databases with DNA found at a crime scene will result in a match if the DNA of the criminal was previously entered. To begin genetic fingerprinting, a technician will procure a sample of DNA.
This piece of genetic coding will be referred to as a “reference sample” (Lynch 12). There are many ways to obtain DNA. For criminal coding the most effective and proven method is that of buccal swabbing. This is the act of collecting a sample by rubbing a swab on the cells on the inside of a person’s cheek. Buccal swabs are a relatively non-invasive way to collect DNA samples for testing. Though DNA is relatively easy to acquire, there are issues involved in its application. It can be seen as an invasion of one’s privacy. Recently there has been some speculation about the accuracy of DNA profiling leading to concerns regarding the potential for criminals to have been falsely convicted. Critics of DNA say that the FBI has falsely applied theories behind it’s calculations, so courtrooms make DNA seem accurate. More than half the states have a mandatory DNA testing of all people convicted of sexual charges and violent offenses, to help in future criminal investigations. Although some people say that this is an invasion of privacy, it’s a good way to prosecute repeat offenders and find suspects when only DNA evidence is available (Forensic 43).
As accurate as DNA profiling is, there are still many questions about the validity of DNA science. Lawyers try to break down DNA test results and make jurors question the accuracy of the evidence. DNA profiling evidence has been known to be a reliable source. So reliable that often, courts view DNA evidence as somewhat as a verdict rather than a piece of evidence. Many believe there is ample opportunity for DNA profiling technology to be taken advantage of to frame one for crime he did not commit. Dr. Tony Raymond, in charge of the forensic services for the NSW Police said “People have said it’s easy for police to plant DNA evidence. I’ve always thought it’s easy for a criminal to plant DNA evidence” (Lynch 34). Regardless of who is planting evidence, it is possible for it to be planted. Another issue is the accuracy of DNA profiling. It was once thought that DNA profiling was 99% accurate however the accuracy depends on the machine and person analysing it. In the United States a few charges were dismissed after judges ruled that laboratories had not conducted the tests properly.
There had been some speculation over DNA evidence from the murder of Jaidyn Leski (Cole 87). The police believe that it had been contaminated not at the scene, but back at the lab. When there is doubt, DNA evidence is not always upheld. This was evident in the O.J. Simpson trial. Simpson was accused of the murders of his wife Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman, a friend of Nicole (Cole 17). Simpson’s lawyers put doubt in the juror’s minds through racism, bad evidence handling, and a possibility of Simpson being framed. Even though DNA testing proved that Simpson was guilty, he was acquitted of all charges. This shows that DNA evidence in everyone’s eyes is not valid without substantial evidence. Forensic DNA analysis is rapidly evolving. Research and development of tools that will permit crime laboratories to conduct DNA analysis quickly is vital to the goal of improving the timely analysis of DNA samples. Smaller, faster, and less costly analysis tools will reduce capital investments for crime laboratories while increasing their capacity to process more cases. In order to increase productivity, the forensic science community has a critical need for trained forensic scientists in public crime laboratories (Forensic 13).
The initiative will assist the development of comprehensive training programs for a new generation of forensic scientists, enabling new forensic scientists to receive in-depth training to prepare them for analyzing actual casework in a crime laboratory. With the increasing mobility of national populations and concerns to curtail international crime and terrorism, the law enforcement community will desire to make databanks more readily accessible. By analogy, Canada and the United States recently developed an agreement to link their Integrated Ballistics Information System (IBIS) databases (Forensic 32). This can be done more easily than with DNA databanks, which are affected by the laws and principles of each jurisdiction surrounding the use of personal information associated with an intimate sample, such as a person’s DNA. Since the introduction of DNA evidence, it has played a key role in the investigation of crime; police now rely on DNA analysis to provide intelligence that was previously unavailable.
The value of this technology has resulted in an increased expectations of impartial evidence. DNA been used in judicial reviews and its convincing ability has been used in support of both repeals and convictions (Lazer 12). Through partnerships between police and scientists, DNA analysis will continue to be regarded as the standard of excellence for the development of impartial, unbiased scientific evidence in the support of the justice system. It is the belief that DNA evidence is nearly impossible not to leave behind that scares many potential criminals. Deterring potential criminals lowers crime. DNA fingerprinting, and more recently the threat of it, not only solves crimes but also prevents them. The process of matching and identifying genes of suspect to those genes found at the scene of a crime may be seen as a violation of privacy, but it has prevented many crimes, and send many people to prison. DNA identification has saved many lives, but more importantly, prevented even the threat of many others.