History of DNA and of Its Use by the Criminal Justice System Thesis

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DNA

History of DNA Testing

The growth of DNA Testing and Interpretation over the years

DNA Testing Today 5

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Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) Testing, Has grown in popularity in recent years. The testing of DNA came about in 1985 and was first used in the criminal justice system in 1987. The first case occurred in Louisiana using a DNA dragnet. During a DNA dragnet, DNA is collected from a large number of people that fit the description of a suspect. In this case the exclusion samples were taken consensually. As an investigative tool the DNA testing involves the examination of biological materials including hair, skin, blood, saliva and semen. Such testing can be crucial in determining the identity of a person because it "contains the complex genetic blueprint that distinguishes each person (James, 2009)." DNA testing can be over 99% accurate. Because of the reliability and accuracy associated with DNA testing its use has grown substantially in recent years. The investigation also explores the importance of properly interpreting DNA evidence. Failure to do so can result in the development of wrong assumptions and suspicions. In some ways the issue of how to interpret DNA results is becoming less of an issue as technologies advance and the criminal justice system understands more about forensics and crime scene investigation. DNA is also useful in exonerating individuals that have been wrongly accused of crimes. Over the years hundreds of people have been exonerated through the use of DNA testing. Because of the substantial number of people that have been exonerated through DNA testing the Supreme Court has weighed in on the issue of making DNA testing a constitutional right to DNA testing. However, the court ruled against this idea, stating that this authority is in the hands of legislators. Overall, DNA testing has proven to be a useful tool in the years since its inception.

Introduction

Thesis on History of DNA and of Its Use by the Criminal Justice System Assignment

DNA testing has become a vitally important part of criminal investigation, particularly over the last decade. DNA testing has forever changed the manner in which criminal investigation is handled by police and prosecutors. The purpose of this discussion is to provide an overview of the history of DNA testing in the criminal justice system. The research will explore the first cases involving DNA testing and explore the ways in which DNA testing has evolved over time.

History of DNA Testing

DNA testing was actually created in 1985 and involves the testing of biological materials such as hair, skin, blood, saliva and semen. Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), can be vitally important in determining the identity of a person because it "contains the complex genetic blueprint that distinguishes each person (James, 2009)." Additionally forensic testing has the ability to establish if unique patterns in the genetic material discovered at a scene of a crime is identical to the DNA of a suspect with more than 99% accuracy.

According to Lazer (2004), the first use of DNA within the criminal justice system came in 1987 in Louisiana. However the first conviction as a result of DNA evidence came in 1987 and involved a Florida rapist named Tommie Lee Andrews; he was sentenced to 22 years (James, 2009). In the Louisiana case a DNA dragnet was used to find a suspect named Colin Pitchork. During a DNA dragnet, DNA is collected from a large number of people that fit the description of a suspect. In this case the exclusion samples were taken consensually. However, the author explains that this consensually was deceptive because most people consented because not doing so would make them look guilty.

Since the time of the Louisiana case in 1987 the use of DNA within the realm of the criminal justice system has grown more sophisticated. Today DNA is routinely used to convict people and to exonerate those that have been wrongly accused. Since the inception of DNA testing there was a great deal of discussion concerning the ways in which it would transform the criminal justice system and assists law enforcement agencies in finding criminals in a more expedient and accurate way.

The growth of DNA Testing and Interpretation over the years

After the initial use of DNA testing in 1987, the use of DNA testing in the criminal justice system grew rapidly. Prottas and Noble (2007) explains that by 1994 more than 40% of local prosecutors reported that they had used DNA evidence in a felony case at least once. The authors further explain that by the year 2001 an estimated 68% of local prosecutors used DNA testing to convict felons. The authors further posit,

"Moreover, from a technical point-of-view, the potential benefits of DNA testing are substantial. Early hurdles to admissibility during trial have been overcome by the adoption of rigorous standards for DNA analysis. Rapid development of identification technology, fueled in significant part by the Human Genome Project, and the resultant development and expansion of national forensic DNA databases, has increased the potential of DNA to play a major role in crime solving. Indeed, over three million offender profiles, collected by state and federal authorities, now reside in the National DNA Index System (NDIS). This number is likely to increase as more states and the federal government are expanding compelled DNA collections to individuals arrested for certain crimes (Prottas and Noble, 2007)."

Obviously within the context of the criminal justice system, the advances made in recent years in DNA testing have led to an increase in the reliability of this tool. The accuracy of DNA testing has assisted greatly in the increase in the number of prosecutors who utilize the technology. Because of the accuracy of the technology law enforcement agencies and prosecutors are more apt to capture criminals before they can do any more harm to society.

Additionally, DNA evidence must be put into the proper context. For instance, if a husband and wife live in a house together and the husband is murdered, the wife's DNA is likely to be in the house. This does not mean, however, that the wife actually committed the crime. Her DNA may just be I the house because the wife lives in the home. Those who work in the criminal justice system must understand these types of relationships. According to McCartney (2006) police must have a clear and accurate understanding of how to utilize DNA evidence. The author further explains that 'The police can be blinded by their own science and believe it will save them from investigating a case properly. Even some senior police don't understand what DNA can actually prove, that just having a DNA match won't prove a case.' Such problems belie a lack of understanding about the interpretation of DNA results; that a DNA match in itself is meaningless without proper interpretation and contextualisation: The interpretation of the DNA is more important than the result itself. There can be all sorts of reasons for a DNA profile appearing somewhere -- we have to look at all the possibilities & #8230; Because it is so powerful, it can't discriminate between minor contact and major contact. You have to be able to interpret the DNA result (McCartney, 2006)."

Indeed the proper interpretation of results can place someone's life in the balance. As such prosecutors and law enforcement agents must be taught concerning the proper interpretation of DNA materials and results. In some ways the issue of how to interpret DNA results is becoming less of an issue as technologies advance and the criminal justice system understands more about forensics and crime scene investigation.

Overall, it is apparent that the use of DNA technology has grown substantially in recent years. The research suggest that the increased reliability of DNA testing and results has resulted in increased confidence levels amongst those in the criminal justice system. In addition the research indicates that interpretation of DNA evidence is even more important than the ability to perform DNA tests. The investigation insists that professionals in the criminal justice system must be taught how to properly interpret the results of DNA tests.

DNA Testing Today

In recent years DNA testing has grown far beyond that of DNA dragnets. Today DNA testing has become a hot bed issue, particularly as it pertains to exonerating people of crimes. Because the advent of DNA testing has exonerated many people who were serving time for a crime they did not commit, some prisoners, law makers and others involved in the criminal justice system feel that prisoners should have the right to DNA testing if they believe that they have been wrongly convicted of a crime. The use of DNA testing to exonerate prisoners has become an extremely controversial issue. One of the reasons for the controversy lies in the fact that quite a few people who have been convicted of rape and murder have been found innocent as a result of DNA testing. According to Gould (2008),"Over the span of a few years at the turn of the new century, more than one hundred innocent individuals were identified and freed from the nation's prisons,… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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