Term Paper: DNA in Criminal Cases

Pages: 28 (7716 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Criminal Justice  ·  Buy This Paper

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[. . .] They began, 'We wish to suggest a structure for... DNA. This structure has novel features, which are of considerable biological interest.' They ended as modestly: 'It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing we have postulated immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism for genetic material.'" (Lee) In 1991, nearly 40 years after the Nature article was published Watson wrote, "There is no substance so important as DNA... The key to our optimism that all secrets of life are within the grasp of future generations of perceptive biologists is the ever accelerating speed at which we have been able to probe the secrets of DNA." (Lee)

How can a narration of the structure and workings of DNA emerge into a claim that DNA is a roadmap leading to the secrets of life? "Earth's biological past is a four-billion-year journey of the evolution of living organisms, all of which, in each of their cells, harbor long, densely coiled strands of DNA molecules. These serpentine coils are gathered into discrete bundles, the chromosomes. Along the length of each chromosome, the genes (perhaps as many as 100,000 in a human being) are each a unique segment of the chromosomal DNA. The precise details of the molecular structure of the DNA in each gene spell out a genetic code. The cells read the code and respond to its commands." (Lee) The result of this is life.

It has always been obvious to even the non-scientific mind that all living creatures have special attributes that set them apart from other things i.e. growth, movement, reproduction. All forms of life appear to generate others that have these same attributes. Scientists wanted to know how each living creature could be unique, but still share in "this mysterious common denominator, (called) life." (Lee)

As science has continued to ask and answer many questions about DNA, the search has become broader and the tools of science have become more sophisticated. Because of this, scientists have been able to dig even deeper into the mystery surrounding cells. "They finally arrived at the cell nucleus, the membrane-bound sac enclosing the chromosomes. Going further, they learned how to extract and study the chromosomes themselves. The chromosomes turned out to be fashioned out of DNA and proteins." (Lee)

When Watson and Crick presented their study of DNA to the scientific community, "they did much more than describe the three-dimensional symmetry of just one of the thousands of chemicals found in living cells. They had uncovered the secret which would soon lead to a New Biology, in which the evolution and abilities of each living creature would be seen precisely as the result of information flowing from its genes -- messages carried not in the nuclear proteins but in the molecules of DNA." (Lee)

After this discovery, the biological sciences quickly centered on genes. "The applications of this new approach are already beginning to reach into almost every facet of our lives in ways which range from life-saving gene-based diagnostics and treatment to the fashioning of hitherto impossible new genetic forms of animals and plants. Scientists are already well under way on the Human Genome Project, a 15-year-long effort to construct a map locating the 100,000 or so genes which are spread out over our 23 pairs of chromosomes and which spell out the genetic directions for the human race." (Lee)

Along with the powerful knowledge that scientists have unmasked with the discovery of DNA comes a responsibility that many say most humans can not fathom. "Knowledge may not always lead to power, but it is certainly a critical prerequisite to making an informed decision about issues which surface where science and society meet. We are facing a change, which could surpass the Industrial Revolution in its impact on the world." (Lee) In fact, the terms gene and DNA have become part of the American vernacular.

Not a day passes when the words DNA do not appear in a newspaper headline or a magazine article. In recent years, the genes for diseases like cystic fibrosis or certain forms of cancer have been identified. And quite often, we hear reports of legal battles over whether or not courts should accept DNA evidence in criminal court cases.

DNA Testing in Criminal Investigations

Naturally with any monumental discovery, such as the discovery of DNA, the number of ways in which it can be used are infinite. DNA is not only the key to all life -- it is the key to solving murders. DNA evidence coupled with solid detective work will make sure that the guilty are punished and that the innocent are not falsely convicted. Many argue that now that DNA has been established as being the "standard" in many murder cases that laws should be changed that require DNA testing for all cases involving a murder. But should DNA actually change the law? "To date, most of the writing in law about genetic technologies has been about how to manage, control, and prevent misuse of these technologies. That focus is not surprising, because we live in an age of environmentalism, characterized by legal concerns about how to deal with the adverse consequences of past technological revolutions. But as important as managing and controlling the new genetic technologies through law may be, I believe that the major effect of the new knowledge of the human genome on law will be to transform our understanding of human nature. This transformation will then have profound consequences for the law." (Elliot, 2001)

Unfortunately, DNA testing is prohibitively expensive in most cases. And, if state or federal governments were to mandate DNA testing in all murder cases, the cost could be astronomical. Additionally, even without mandating DNA testing there is a backlog of testing that still is waiting at laboratories around the world. In fact, "with an accuracy rate of 99.9%, DNA testing has become a powerful tool for fingering crime suspects. But demand for it has grown so large that the government laboratories that process the results are struggling to keep up." (Price, 2001) There is such a demand for DNA testing in criminal cases, that it is not uncommon to wait for months or even years to have samples processed. "Only in high-profile cases, such as that of Rep. Gary A. Condit, the California Democrat whose DNA has been collected to aid in the search for missing former intern Chandra Ann Levy, are DNA results made available in a matter of weeks. For most DNA tests, results come within three to six months. For cases involving samples of bones, teeth and hair, the testing process can take a year. (Price, 2001) One of the biggest problems facing the criminal justice system today is the substantial backlog of unanalyzed DNA samples and biological evidence collected from crime scenes. "Too often, crime scene samples wait unanalyzed in police or crime lab storage facilities. Timely analysis of these samples and placement into DNA databases can avert tragic results. For example, in 1995, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement linked evidence found on a rape-homicide victim to a convicted rapist's DNA profile just eight days before he was scheduled for parole. Had he been released prior to being linked to the unsolved rape-homicide, he may very well have raped or murdered again." (Price)

DNA analysis and placement into CODIS of DNA profiles can dramatically increase the chances that potential crime victims will be spared the violence of vicious, repeat offenders. "The (federal) initiative calls for $92.9 million to help alleviate the current backlogs of DNA samples for the most serious violent offenses - rapes, murders, and kidnappings - and for convicted offender samples needing testing. With this additional federal backlog reduction funding, the funding provided by this initiative to improve crime laboratory capacity, and continued support from the states, the current backlogs will be eliminated in five years." (Price)

Adding to an already heavy burden, most states including California are attempting to take DNA samples from a prison population approaching 2 million. This DNA information is being used in order to create state and national DNA databases. "All 50 states have passed laws requiring collection of DNA from convicted sex offenders, and 34 states have enacted statutes requiring that DNA be taken from those convicted of other crimes." (Price) Although most are in support of creating such a database, others feel that it is a violation of the American Constitution. Additionally, many proponents of DNA in criminal murder cases feel that DNA is still an unproven science with many inherent flaws that could convict innocent people and allow some to literally get away with murder. "The discovery conflicts surrounding forensic DNA testing moved into a new arena when state laboratories began using DNA kits prefabricated by private corporations. Commercial forensic DNA kits are like chemistry sets: they include all of the materials used in DNA testing and detailed instructions on how to produce results.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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DNA in Criminal Cases.  (2003, May 17).  Retrieved May 26, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/dna-criminal-cases/3013724

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"DNA in Criminal Cases."  Essaytown.com.  May 17, 2003.  Accessed May 26, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/dna-criminal-cases/3013724.