“Eureka!” shouted scientist Alec Jeffreys in his lab in Leicester, England, on a September day in 1984. Jeffreys had discovered a technique to biologically identify any individual using only a small sample of their DNA: the DNA fingerprint. While Sir Alec was studying hereditable diseases in families, he noticed the repetitive patterns of DNA, Variable Number of Tandem Repeats (VNTR’s), were present in every human being. Each DNA pattern differed in every individual, leading to Jeffreys’ realization that each variation of DNA could be used to identify a specific individual. (“An Evening with Alec Jefferies”, 2016)
The first DNA profiling technique developed by Alec Jeffreys in the 1980’s evolved into
the basis of forensic science, revolutionizing forensic investigations and criminal prosecutions for the protection of society by addressing concerns that existed, its contribution to forensic science, and its influence on the criminal justice system.
Jeffrey’s new DNA fingerprinting technique was known as the multi-locus probe (MLP) technique. DNA was dissolved into fragments via restriction enzymes, chemical “scissors”. The MLP technique visualized sequences of DNA and compared its sizes. The result of the technique was a complex pattern of bands from markers that bound to chromosomal sites. The two samples could be compared to identify a specific individual. Jeffreys and other supporters of his technique believed this technique was completely reliable and never wrong. (Roewer, 2013)
Societal concerns regarding DNA technology
While the technique of DNA fingerprinting was a phenomenal technological advance for forensic science, the introduction of any new technology to society is likely to raise concerns. The introduction of DNA fingerprinting, by Alec Jeffreys was no different, as it raised social, economic, and ethical concerns among members of society (National Research Council, 1992). Economical concerns included expansion in the number of laboratories and experts in the field, as well as the cost of equipment, training programs, and supplies. There were concerns about supplying the court with reliable assistance to evaluate DNA, along with the overall increase in cost of criminal justice (Lynch, 2003).
It was decided that DNA profiling did not violate any fundamental ethical principles, however, ethics was a matter in question. There was apprehension about intrusions of privacy and breaches of confidentiality involving DNA. Many people questioned whether the rights of the subject were enhanced or endangered. Society was also concerned about the potential abuse and misuse of DNA technology. Invaders gaining unauthorized access to databanks and the threat of unauthorized disclosure of information posed a problem, as well (National Research Council, 1992).
The most prevalent issue brought about by DNA fingerprinting was that of trust. Who and what should a court trust when making major decisions about an individual’s fate and the protection of society? Could members of society trust the validity of DNA fingerprinting? Why were these concerns brought about and what did this mean for society?
At first, courts in many countries were hesitant towards the new technology. Their main concern involved trusting that DNA fingerprinting was a legitimate and reliable source of evidence (Lynch 2003). The use of DNA technology was challenged in court several times, planting seeds of doubt in many people’s minds. However, Sir Alec Jeffreys, along with the scientific community, supported the error-free method of personal identification and backed the technology with extensive research. Scientific research supported Jeffreys’ postulation that DNA could be used for personal identification. Eventually, judges, juries, and the public placed their trust in the scientific evidence, too.
“The courts trusted fingerprint experts not so much because of the examiners’ esteemed personal qualities, but because fingerprints were believed to be a certain means of individual identification and the job of detecting fingerprint matches was deemed trivial for trained persons, given sufficient evidence. (Lynch, 2003, p. 94).
The validity of DNA technology became established as the courts and members of government broadcasted their belief in the technology. They trusted fingerprint examiners because their judgments were expressed as absolute determinations. DNA fingerprinting was viewed as an unquestioned method of identifying an individual based on the MLP technique.
“A forensic scientist testifying in an early death-penalty rape–murder trial made a claim about a DNA profile match, saying that detecting it was a ‘very simple straightforward operation…there are no objective standards about making a visual match. Either it matches or it doesn’t. It’s like you walk into a parking lot and see two blue Fords parked next to each other’ “(Lynch 2003, p. 96).
Once the trust between DNA technology and society was established, the overall consensus about DNA fingerprinting was that of excitement and hope in the fight against crime.
DNA TECHNOLOGY AND PATERNITY TESTING
One major area advanced by DNA technology is paternity testing. Paternity testing has historically been conducted by taking blood samples and analyzing inherited traits. The tests involved the analysis of blood types and subtypes, as well as examining how the traits have been inherited from a person’s parents. However, such methods were not entirely accurate and typically were not used in a court of law (Asen, 2019). Later advancements in DNA fingerprinting have allowed for the widespread use and acceptance of paternity testing, solidifying it as a highly impactful and accurate way of determining a person’s biological father.
Modern paternity testing has become widely accessible, as tests can be taken in a variety of ways. Testing for legal reasons must be conducted in a medical setting, and DNA samples are collected by a nurse or other third party. This ensures that the identity of the person tested can be verified, thus enabling the test to be used and presented in a court of law (Nigerian Tribune, 2017). Legal testing thus enables people to gain legal rights to child support, custody, and other benefits. At-home tests are also an option when these issues are not of worry to individuals. These tests are typically made to be affordable, are taken for peace of mind, and can also help establish trust between individuals (Cleveland Clinic, 2020).
The accessibility of paternity testing has proven increasingly relevant in many parts of the world. Nigeria serves as an example of this, as paternity testing has seen an increase in popularity due to the increased rate of divorce, immigration, and even the influence of western culture. This increase in popularity has somewhat had an impact on Nigerian culture, from protecting wills and estates to breaking the notion that only a mother can truly know who fathers her children. As a result, Nigerian companies and establishments are beginning to make efforts to invest in paternity testing and the necessary skill sets needed to perform it (Nigerian Tribune, 2017).
Dna technology’s role in forensic science
Although DNA profiling was a controversial innovation, the technology revolutionized forensic science investigations and criminal prosecutions for the betterment of society. Since Jeffreys’ DNA profiling technique, DNA testing has become an established component of the criminal justice process. DNA profiling allows for exoneration of the innocent and conviction of the guilty. A major use for DNA evidence is the use in exoneration cases. In criminal context the term exonerate refers to a state where a person convicted of a crime is later proved to be innocent. Since Jeffreys used DNA evidence for the first time, there has been 367 people released from prison for crimes that they did not commit. Not only is this number growing, the technique is getting progressively faster, leading to more numbers of people getting exonerated and freed. Investigators use DNA evidence as a main point in their exoneration case.
The courtroom has the ability to use evidentiary material to identify victims of crime, disaster, and war (Trent, 2012). DNA technology is not only used for recognizing criminals, but also serves as a positive resource. It is a technology that has many applications for the betterment of society.
Before Jeffreys’ “eureka moment”, DNA evidence had never been used in the court of law. In an interview with Alison Woollard, Sir Alec Jeffreys recalls a time when his scientific peers refused to entertain the idea of using DNA technology to benefit the justice system. When he explained his idea to his peers they laughed in his face and said, “You just don’t use DNA in criminal investigations; that’s stupid” (“An Evening with Alec Jefferys, 2016).
The scientific community’s reaction only fueled Jeffreys’ determination to successfully use DNA in criminal investigations. By 1998, DNA test results had been used in more than one-hundred cases in the United States, all without much challenge from defense attorneys (Norris 2017). Now, DNA fingerprinting is the absolute standard in criminal investigations and has been since the 1990’s. This wide acceptance can be attributed to a deeper public awareness of the scientific evidence behind DNA technology along with its benefits, and society’s eventual trust in the technology due the presented scientific evidence. However, not all were impressed with the new technology and the New York Times printed an extensive article by Lawrence Altman on February 4, 1986 critiquing the new DNA technology (Altman, 1986).
The increasing approval and use of DNA technology enabled a variety of new developments and advancements to be made. One essential development is the analysis and use of microsatellites, also known as short tandem repeats. These microsatellites are small, repeating segments of DNA that are unique to each individual (Saad, 2005). Advancements like microsatellites and methods related to paternity testing were used to aid in the identification of the remains of Joseph Mengele, a Nazi prison camp doctor nicknamed the “Angel of Death.” When his suspected remains were first located, they had decomposed and aged to the point that any DNA samples taken were barely usable. However, blood specimens from Mengele’s wife and son were used to reconstruct portions of his DNA in what was essentially a “reverse paternity test.” The results were conclusive, and the remains were later confirmed to belong to Mengele (Saad, 2005).
DNA technology in the criminal justice system
The first time DNA technology was used in the court of law was in England in 1996 to contribute to a rape case. Two girls were raped and strangled on two separate occasions in 1983 and 1996. The suspect admitted to the rape and murder of the first female, but not the second. Since Alec Jeffreys had just discovered the technique of DNA fingerprinting, he was called in to demonstrate his new technique with hopes of convicting the criminal responsible. The results of the DNA test indicated that both crime scene samples matched each other, but they did not match the suspect. The first time DNA was used in the criminal justice system was to prove innocence (Norris, 2017). The technique of DNA fingerprinting was originally thought of to identify criminals and convict them or their evildoing. The first case where DNA technology was utilized broadened the horizons of the technology by introducing the concept that it could aid in the exoneration of the innocent.
In criminal investigations, DNA fingerprinting provides a crucial evidentiary link between the suspect and the scene of the crime. In a crime scene, sometimes there are only reminiscence of blood, hair, or semen. The physical trace of the suspect left at the scene is uplifted by investigators, DNA is extracted from the sample, and then a DNA fingerprint is made from the sample. Each DNA fingerprint provides a sample unique and identifiable to an individual person (Singh, 1992). DNA technology allows investigators to identify persons of interest and liberate the falsely accused. According to Singh,
“The significance of this development for forensic analysis is staggering for if the two patterns match the possibility of error – that is, the chance that they do not come from the same individual – is less than one in thirty billion.” (p.91)
DNA evidence provides a definite identification of an individual, with very little chance of inaccuracy, although, upon early development of the technique some uncertainty was presented in matters of sexual offenses. When a semen stain was taken from a vaginal swab, it was found that the result was not always sex specific, reducing the certainty of who the sperm originated from. However, a chemical process separating sperm nuclei from the female component was developed, completely eliminating any chance of confusion or doubt (Singh, 1992). As of modern day, newer technological advances and scientific explorations advocate for the validity and benefit of DNA technology utilized in the criminal justice system.
A fascinating case of the use of DNA technology is the Malcolm Alexander case. Malcolm was in jail for 38 years before being exonerated by DNA evidence. Malcolm was only 19 years old when he was convicted of rape, a crime that he did not commit. During his trial, there was a deeply flawed, unreliable identification procedure which led to him being convicted of the charge. Being only 19 years old, with little help to prove his innocence, Malcolm went on to spend 38 years in jail before the Innocence Project helped him out. In 2013, they found hair evidence that was stored at a local police station which did not match Malcolm nor the victim. The three hairs that they tested did not match Malcolm, so they brought the case to court and got Malcolm exonerated.
A more modern example of the use of DNA technology in the criminal justice system involves the case of Ivey v. Commonwealth. The case involves the abuse of 13-year-old Karen by a man named Ivey, who was in a relationship with her mother. Karen eventually became pregnant, and later revealed that the father of the child was Ivey. Her mother immediately contacted both the Garrard County and Hardin County police departments and they were quickly able to obtain a warrant to collect necessary DNA samples. Two additional paternity tests were ordered and obtained, and the case was presented in court. Expert testimony quickly showed that the tests determined Ivey to be the father with a 99.9999% probability. The court accepted the evidence, and Ivey was sentenced to life in prison (Ivey v. Commonwealth, 2016). This case stands as a testament to the accuracy of modern methods of DNA fingerprinting and paternity testing. It contrasts from the previously skeptical attitudes that were held about the technology’s accuracy and applicability and cements its acceptance and usefulness in modern day society.
THe Evolution of DNA Fingerprinting
DNA fingerprinting has evolved in a variety of ways since its discovery. Improvements in technology and science have allowed for it to be easy to detect in crime scenes, and the use of DNA fingerprinting has also served as a catalyst for other forms of DNA to be used as evidence in crime scenes. Other forms of DNA that have been collected for evidence at crime scenes include blood, hair, skin, etc. The use of DNA forms being used as evidence has helped exonerate over 150 wrongly convicted people, and has been helpful in a more truthful, accurate trial (Your DNA Fingerprint). As told by CEN, “Today, investigators can retrieve DNA profiles from skin cells left behind when a criminal merely touches a surface.” Other improvements to DNA fingerprinting have helped to make it easier for samples of DNA to be taken at crime scenes (Arnaud). It has evolved since its discovery to be more beneficial and efficient to use in crime scenes and forensic science. Through improved scientific research, smaller samples can be used to gather information, different kinds of DNA can be used, and it has also made it easier to predict different genes in individuals.
DNA can now be used to predict genetics in forensics. Certain models can now even predict eye color 90% of the time and hair color 80% of the time (Your DNA Fingerprint). These models are currently being observed to create more models that can predict more complex facial features and make it even easier to analyze and use DNA in forensics. The goal for the future is to use DNA from crime scenes to help create an accurate description of potential suspects of unidentified victims from scratch. As found on WMD, “DNA phenotyping has evolved from DNA fingerprinting and can help identify victims more efficiently and quickly.” The use of DNA testing has helped forensics science and proven to be a powerful tool for catching criminals. Sophisticated software that has evolved over time can use probabilistic genotype matching, and this is used to help correctly identify a suspect (Your DNA Fingerprint). This helps determine if two samples come from the same person and can help with identifying people through DNA accurately.
As DNA fingerprinting technology has progressed, scientists are now able to create fingerprints with smaller samples. Instead of a pint of blood that was used originally for DNA fingerprinting, a suspect can be identified from a pint of blood (Arnaud). Originally, DNA fingerprinting required samples to be in perfection. To be an accurate reading, almost a pint of blood was required and a large sample that is not mixed. Technology and new scientific research have helped make it easier for forensic scientists to use gathered evidence at crime scenes as DNA evidence. The improvement of PCR to be less sensitive in testing has helped make it possible for a drop of blood to be used and analyzed by forensic scientists (Arnaud).
DNA can be found in various forms at crime scenes today to help identify a suspect. Investigators can retrieve DNA profiles from skin cells left behind when a criminal touches a surface. The improved technology makes it possible to distinguish a suspect from a mixed sample. DNA can be used as evidence in skin cells, blood, hair, nails, etc (Evolution at the Scene of a Crime). There are many ways that DNA can be collected and used for crime scenes today, making it easier to identify suspects and easier for them to get caught as well. It is almost impossible to leave a crime scene without DNA being left behind, making it so much harder for criminals to commit crimes.
The improvement of DNA fingerprinting has helped society have a better, safe environment because it has ultimately made it easier for a criminal to be identified correctly. The accuracy of DNA is useful in other aspects of society today, branching out from its original purpose of being used in fingerprinting to solve crimes. It can also be used for organ donations, identifying bodies, it can aid in finding cures for disease, it can identify family genetics and hereditary diseases, help identify a crime suspect, etc (Your DNA Fingerprint). It’s many purposes have grown from its discovering in 1984, and it ultimately has helped to evolve society for the better.
Race and the digital divide in dna databases
DNA fingerprinting is a practice that will always be controversial due to different racial, social, and ethical opinions circling around America today. One specific connection to DNA fingerprinting in particular has caused discussion about these three standpoints, and that is DNA fingerprinting databases. Hundreds of scholars, advocates, and scientists have experimented with trying to perform DNA database research properly, but there are still concerns about racial equity when it comes to the topic. A study done by Erin Murphy and Jun H. Tong found that there are “dramatic disparities in racial composition of DNA databases”, and this includes the fact that information about black Americans in DNA databases is collected at two-three times the rate that information about white Americans is (Murphy, E., & Tong, J. H., 2020). Knowing that 14.2% of all Americans total are black, this is a stunning statistic. Furthermore, DNA databases are used to find near matches of the actual perpetrator in a crime. When a professional uses a DNA database to try and identify the people involved in a crime, they take evidence from the scene and try to match it to any existing DNA already in the database to try to find people who may be related to the perpetrator (Murphy, E., & Tong, J. H., 2020). This process is very controversial because in doing so, it makes all relatives of the preparator suspects in a crime case, and it is not always 100% accurate (Murphy, E., & Tong, J. H., 2020). Additionally, research indicated that black Americans have much more representation in DNA databases, which means that they have more family members in the databases (Murphy, E., & Tong, J. H., 2020). This puts black Americans more at risk during investigation and puts them at a much higher probability of becoming a suspect in a criminal case. Not only are there racial disparities within DNA databases, there are also inequities according to gender. DNA databases hold much more information on males than they do on females (Murphy, E. E., 2010). While one may argue that males tend to be more reckless and therefore get into more trouble, this disparity can be a big problem especially when professionals use the near match technique for finding a perpetrator. When an official uses the near match technique where they identify people related to the DNA found at the crime scene using DNA databases, more males in the family will automatically be labeled as suspects due to the fact that there is more male data in DNA databases than there is for females (Murphy, E. E., 2010).
In addition to racial disparities within DNA databases, the databases also tend to make the digital divide larger. To have a digital divide means that there is a gap between middle class and higher Americans and underprivileged Americans when it comes to technology. Underprivileged Americans tend to not have as much easy access to technology and the internet, so completely relying on DNA databases in crime can set them apart even more than they already are right now (Chow-White, P. A., & Duster, T., 2011). Some of the groups that can be affected by this growing divide are racial and eithnic minorities, unemployed citizens, and the working class (Chow-White, P. A., & Duster, T., 2011). Technology is something that is meant to connect the world and make communication easier, not divide the world further. Connection to the internet is a basic need in society today, and unfortunately there are inequities in who has access to different amounts of technology (Chow-White, P. A., & Duster, T., 2011). Therefore, these DNA databases can really make this gap between different classes of Americans even larger, and have the opposite effect of the intended goal with technology.
Race and DNA Databases
DNA fingerprinting technologies have been critical in proving innocence or guilt in the courts; however, we often downplay the adverse effects of this technology, especially on racial minorities in the United States. The impact of DNA fingerprinting on society is particularly evident by the racial and ethnic makeup of forensic DNA databases that is disproportionate to the American population. The demographic composition of these databases exacerbates racial disparities and reinforces stereotypes linking race and crime.
Large forensic databases like CODIS (the Combined DNA Index System) contain several million DNA samples, and it is this abundance of data that makes these databases so important in criminal investigations. Thus, police departments utilize DNA fingerprinting/profiling techniques to collect samples from felons, arrestees, and sometimes even suspects in order to further expand their databases (Ossorio, 2005). However, analyzing the composition of these databases reveals that the proportion of DNA fingerprints that are from African Americans is between two and three times larger than the fraction of African Americans in the total population of every state (Murphy, 2020). On the other hand, even though white persons make up 62% of the US population, less than half of the samples in forensic databases belong to white people (Murphy, 2020). Thus, one can conclude that officers collect DNA profiles from African Americans much more frequently than they do from white people and that this technology has a much more significant effect on communities of color. Forensic DNA databases have disproportionately more data from African Americans, while the opposite is true for DNA collections used in biomedical and health research, where there is a distinct lack of diversity. These statistics lead to questions concerning the causes for the racial discrepancies in forensic databases in particular.
The most obvious reason is that these databases reflect and “mirror racial disparities in arrest practices and incarceration rates” (Chow-White, 2011). Over the past three decades, the racial makeup of prisons has shifted due to changes in policing. Policing occurs with higher frequency in black neighborhoods, and black Americans have much higher arrest rates than white Americans. For example, “buy and bust” police tactics, which are common in black neighborhoods, rarely occur in white communities even though drug use is often higher in these areas. Thus, when police collect DNA profiles from convicted felons and arrestees, they are disproportionately gathering DNA from nonwhite populations (Chow-White, 2011). Part of the issue may be the compulsory collection laws, which were ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court in Maryland v. King and encourage police officers to collect DNA from arrestees. In fact, some police will consistently solicit a DNA sample from every person they stop in order to add these samples to their databases (Thompson, 2019). This would not necessarily be an issue if not for racial profiling, in which people of minority races are more likely to be stopped by police and then compelled to give up their DNA. Forensic databases were created to help uncover the truth when it comes to crime. However, the nature of the databases is such that it places more suspicion on African Americans since they are unfairly represented. Hence, there is increasing fear that DNA profiling is one of several new technologies that instead of “ameliorating social inequalities, … would exacerbate them” (Chow-White, 2011).
Inequality can be an unintentional result of some criminal investigations that utilize familial searches of forensic databases. When police cannot find an exact DNA match for a criminal, they will instead search their databases for a partial match in DNA to identify a relative of the offender who could lead them to the culprit. However, this method disproportionately places suspicion on the innocent relatives of current or former black convicts since black Americans are excessively represented in the databases. Familial searches essentially allow for “‘genetic surveillance’… [that] would be concentrated on particular demographic populations” (Murphy, 2020). Thus, this technique can lead to police making assumptions about the race of the criminal, usually in cases where they have minimal knowledge or evidence about their offender (Murphy, 2010). Ultimately, familial searches can result in a cycle of increased policing of communities of color, leading to more arrests and thus a higher collection of DNA samples in these neighborhoods (Ossorio, 2005).
Likewise, DNA dragnets is another investigative technique utilizing DNA that, like familial searches, has dangerous implications in furthering racial inequities. As mentioned previously, DNA databases have a limited number of samples compared to the total population of possible suspects, so it is commonly the case that police do not find a DNA match to their criminal within the database. However, DNA dragnets involve requesting DNA samples from a large number of individuals around the geographical location of the crime and matching their DNA with that of the offender (Ossorio, 2005). However, as could be assumed, there is often a “racially targeted manner in which these samples were collected” (Ossorio, 2005) since investigators will request DNA from specific demographics to which they think their suspect belongs. Because this method has been called out and criticized for how it leads to investigators collecting DNA profiles from those primarily belonging to racial minorities, this technique is no longer used. However, both familial searches and DNA dragnets reveal how DNA databases and DNA profiling have been used in racially targeted manners.
The unbalanced racial makeup of DNA databases and how these samples are often racially categorized in investigations can lead to dangerous assumptions linking race, biology, and crime. Race is dependent on the individual’s self-identification, so its use in forensic studies is illogical and leads to the incorrect belief that we all have an inherent and natural race. Our genes do not establish a decided few racial categories of which each person belongs (Ossorio, 2005). In fact, any two humans will have nucleotide sequences that are 99.9% identical, and the variation that is there is most likely to be based on geography, not race (Murphy, 2010). Utilizing DNA profiling technologies in criminal investigations and then studying this data through a racial lens based on the makeup of the DNA databases runs the risk of people making assumptions that biology, race, and criminality are mutually influential. In her research paper about familial searches, Erin Murphy warns that “overtly racializing biological evidence in the criminal justice system risks embarking on a dangerous path that biologizes and pathologizes crime along racial grounds” (Murphy, 2010). It is important to emphasize that there are no genetic markers that are unique to different races (particularly concerning predisposition to criminal behavior) because there are in fact no distinct racial groupings according to our DNA.
Even small police forces now use DNA fingerprinting techniques to catch criminals, thus its wide usage makes it essential to analyze the effects of these technologies on different populations. The intention of DNA fingerprinting in police work was to bring about greater objectivity (Thompson, 2019), but in the hands of humans, who each have some form of implicit bias, DNA profiling technologies are not as objective as we would like to believe. Particularly in criminal investigations, they tend to “lump groups of individuals together into a racialized suspect population” (M’Charek, 2008). Although there are a lot of benefits to DNA fingerprinting, it is important to also acknowledge its detrimental effects, especially on underrepresented populations.
DNa & how it affects people of color
DNA fingerprinting is a new technology that benefited the way cases were solved in court. This was useful in helping exonerate wrongfully convicted people. For the black community, having their DNA in the system instills fear in them. With the past that the black community has with law enforcement, they are not necessarily eager to have their DNA in the system. From DNA exonerations to wrongful convictions, this section will focus on the positive and negative effects of DNA fingerprinting within the black community. The new technology of DNA fingerprinting has become influential in exonerating members of the black community after their wrongful convictions, despite a common resistance of having their DNA in the system.
With the new technology of DNA fingerprinting, this tool was able to assist in exonerating wrongfully convicted people. The Innocence Project’s analysis of 297 DNA exonerations showed that 70% of those proven innocent were minorities. More specifically, 63% of these minorities were black people. This could be said because more black people are wrongfully convicted in the first place, so the percentage of DNA exonerations is higher. The Bureau of Justice’s statistics show that minorities are arrested at a higher rate for crimes such as drugs, weapon possession, speeding, etc. These non-violent crimes have been proven that they are similar in rates among white people as well. Since minorities are arrested at a higher rate, the DNA exonerations are bound to be a high percentage of them being from minority groups. Arrests for these non-violent crimes will lead to future suspicion of more violent crimes, and a lot of the time, these minority groups already have their mugshots in the system. Other statistics prove that 75% of the DNA exoneration cases involve eyewitness misidentification. 42% of these are cross-racial misidentifications. DNA fingerprinting has become something of helpful use to the justice system. There are now ways to prove who committed a crime and potentially exonerate wrongfully convicted people. The black community and other minorities have benefited more drastically from this as opposed to white people. Although this has helped exonerate a lot of people, DNA fingerprinting also instills fear in minorities to have their DNA in the system. It is a tool that is beneficial, but could also have negative effects as well. DNA testing gives the opportunity for injustices to be corrected, especially for wrongfully convicted minorities.
To show how DNA testing has benefited minorities, let’s talk about Malcolm Alexander. Malcolm, a black man, was charged with aggravated rape in 1979 and convicted of sexual assault in 1980. He was sentenced to life without parole. DNA fingerprinting/ testing was not available for criminal cases until 1986. The case was reopened and on January 30, 2018, DNA proved that Malcolm was innocent and was exonerated. He was in prison for 38 years for a crime he did not commit. His lawyer was neglecting and did not present a defense that gave Malcolm the chance of being proven innocent. Malcolm was convicted on this because of a deeply flawed and unreliable identification procedure. This is just one example of how DNA testing has helped wrongfully convicted people, and more specifically, minorities. DNA fingerprinting will continue to be a tool to help criminal cases and exonerations. Minorities who were wrongfully convicted now have a chance to be proven innocent with this new technology.
DNA technology has evolved since it was developed in the 1980’s into newer, more precise techniques. Jeffreys’ DNA fingerprinting technique via the multi-probe lotus profiling method, while successful in applications in the court of law, was adapted by the middle of the 1990’s. Jeffreys’ original technique had drawbacks, including DNA quality issues, linkage errors, and requirement for high molecular weight DNA. To overcome these disadvantages, a single-probe lotus method was devised. Over the years the methods of DNA fingerprinting have evolved into what is used in modern day, called the short tandem repeat (STR) technique (Roewer, 2013). Alec Jeffreys’ DNA fingerprinting technique laid the foundation for the development of modern DNA technology. DNA technology greatly impacted society by transforming forensic science and the evidentiary process in criminal investigations in the court of law. In the present, forensic DNA technology directly effects the lives of many of people worldwide.
- True/False: DNA technology was used to solve crimes before Alec Jeffreys’ innovation of DNA fingerprinting and profiling in the 1980’s.
- Short Answer: Name two purposes of DNA identification in the context of forensic investigations.
- Short Answer: What concerns were raised by members of society upon introduction of DNA fingerprinting and profiling?
Altman, L. K.. (1986, Feb 04). New DNA test offers biological ‘fingerprints’ for crime fight: DNA test offers aid in crime fight. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from http://libproxy.clemson.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.libproxy.clemson.edu/docview/110884933?accountid=6167.
An evening with Alec Jeffreys. (2016). Biologist, 63(4), 16–19.
Lynch, M. (2003). God’s Signature: DNA Profiling, the New Gold Standard in Forensic Science. Endeavor, 27(2), 93–97. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0160-9327(03)00068-1.
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Chow-White, P. A., & Duster, T. (2011, October). Do Health and Forensic DNA Databases Increase Racial Disparities? Public
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Murphy, E., & Tong, J. H. (2020, December). The Racial Composition of Forensic DNA Databases. California Law Review, 108(6). Retrieved September 19, 2021, from https://www.californialawreview.org/print/racial-composition-forensic-dna-databases/#clr-toc-heading-3.
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Norris, R. J. (2017). Dna Evidence Frees the Innocent. Reason, 49(4), 34–41.
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