DNA Data basing and Policy Impact

Many crime labs throughout the US had been collecting and storing biological samples for years but did not have the technology, manpower, or funding to analyze and enter their offender’s DNA profile into a searchable database. Legislation had begun requiring offenders to submit DNA samples depending on their crime and this created a massive backlog nationwide that reached over 500,000 unanalyzed samples from convicted offenders. Furthermore, over one million paroled, probationed, and released felons were due to submit samples (Wilson, 1999).

The lack of resources led to the samples being outsourced for analysis to private labs, such as Verilab and Genesource. The private labs were equipped with automated systems that were able to complete thousands of samples per week and enter the results into a computerized database for the requesting crime lab. However, the individualized databases were of little use when an offender with a profile in jurisdiction A is apprehended as a suspect in jurisdiction F. In 1994 the DNA Identification Act authorized the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) to be accessible by any crime laboratory.

This database allowed for rapid comparisons of evidence DNA from a crime scene to a catalog of DNA from convicted felons entered into the system, regardless of where he was imprisoned in the US. CODIS uses 13 STR loci that are tetrameric repeat sequences to constitute the core of the DNA index. CODIS is a software that law enforcement agencies can search for a possible DNA match with known convicted offenders or they can search to link evidence from seemingly unrelated crimes that appear to have been committed from the same suspect, even if the suspect is unknown.

The system has the capabilities to link local, state and national law enforcement agencies together into one database for a nationwide contribution to the growing profiles. So far over 1. 2 million DNA profiles have been registered in the CODIS database (Kluger, 2002). In the mid 1990’s the UK National DNA Database (NDNAD) began compiling a national database that analyzed based on 10 of the 13 chosen STR loci. However, it is still not possible for the two nations to create an international database (Dove, 2004).

In 1998 the FBI unveiled the National DNA Indexing System (NDIS), a more centralized database, which is capable of identifying DNA associations with records obtained during an investigation. This innovation allows crime labs to compare and exchange DNA profiles electronically in an effort to link violent, serial offenses (Kirschner, 2002). CODIS also has subordinate State DNA Indexing Systems (SDIS) and Local DNA Indexing Systems (LDIS) for and even more centralization. These work in the same manner as the NDIS except on a much smaller scale, but still all linking into the combined system, CODIS (FBI, 2000).

Another subset in the system are the Forensic Index and the Offender Index. The Forensic Index contains profiles from crime scenes used to match possible serial offenders. This can assist multiple jurisdictions to coordinate their investigations and compare independent leads. The Offender Index contains the convicted offenders profiles (criminal offense profiling is dependant on the state). Another database managed by CODIS, the National Missing Persons DNA Database Program, was funded by Congress in 1999.

This database facilitates the collection, sequencing and storage of mtDNA from maternal relatives to determine any remains found that may be linked to missing persons (FBI, 2000). Between 1990 and 1999 all 50 United States enacted laws that mandated convicted felons of specific crimes to submit a blood sample for DNA typing either upon entering prison or before being paroled. In addition to the US and UK, DNA data banking laws have been enacted in Australia, Austria, Canada, China, France, Germany, Sweden, and the Netherlands.

The major difference between the laws of the US and the other participating countries are the European countries permit and encourage “sweeps. ” A sweep is a mass collection of sometimes thousands of samples for elimination when a major crime has been committed. The citizens are not required to provide samples but are strongly encourage, as with an ad campaign for DNA testing featuring the prime minister, Tony Blaire, submitting a sample during a recent sweep. To date there have been more than 80 sweeps in the UK and legislation also permits DNA sampling upon arrest (Reilly, 2001).

The NDNAD (UK’s version of CODIS) currently contains over 2 million people’s genetic profile (Johnson, 2003). US Attorney Janet Reno had asked the National Commission on the Future of DNA Evidence to consider sampling everyone arrested for DNA in addition to the current law that requires the DNA sampling of convicted sex and violent offenders, but at present there has not been a bill presented for legislation. In little over a decade the criminal justice system has evolved from collecting DNA from convicted sex offenders to maintaining a databank of violent offenders in all 50 states and juvenile offenders in 29 states (ACLU, 1999).

Compliance versus Controversy The Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL) has identified numerous remains of Vietnam War Casualties decades after they died in combat through DNA testing methods. This was all due to a US military program that stored biological samples, such as the soldier’s blood, a decade before DNA testing was invented, and has only recently been available for DNA typing. The Virginia Division of Forensic Science recorded 60% of felons identified by the State DNA database for rape or murder had been entered into the system originally for non-violent offenses (Genetics, 1999).

However, regardless of how many families have received closure and felons have been caught and imprisoned for terms long enough to never hurt anyone again, the DNA databasing systems are still met with great concerns and opposition. Many states that conduct DNA analysis and profiling are supposed to destroy the samples after some period of time depending on the state legislation, however, with recidivism rates this high it is befuddling that critics protest the accumulation of DNA profiles.

Arguments fall in the two general ranges: either the violation of a person’s civil rights of genetic privacy or enabling “reformed” convicts from fully regaining their freedom apart from law enforcement agencies. The first range of primary opposition is the concerns of genetic privacy. The questioned asked by critics of DNA profiling is: What can be inferred from DNA typing? There have been concerns that with DNA profiling a predisposition a medical condition would be discovered and that would put you at risk for the insurance companies to deny coverage. Other concerns posted in the media focus more on the affected individuals.

Norman Siegel, a prominent New York Civil Liberties Union member decrees the movement to a national data bank as the makings of a “Brave New World. ” A sort of big brother syndrome that government will have the population cataloged like chattel and our inalienable freedoms would be challenged. The Reverend Al Sharpton claims the US Judicial System is racially biased and believes the testing of newborns for data banking would be threatening to minorities. He states that a database containing a genetic profile of every minority would be crippling to their movement of equality.

Putting a minority’s DNA in the hands of a racially biased system means he is as good as convicted, “DNA is D. O. A” was the movement he attempted at a news conference (Genetics, 1999). Inmates on death row along with several hundred other incarcerated people challenged DNA sampling in California stating it would violate their civil rights (Kluger, 2002). This civil rights violation is of the 4th amendment, which states, “the right of the people to be secure … against unreasonable search and seizures… and no warrant shall be issued without probable cause.

” Lawyers argue that reviewing a person’s genetic profile stored in a database without requested consent is unreasonable search and seizure. However, the government’s position is once a person is federally incarcerated they belong to the government, and that includes their DNA. Other critics, even in the scientific community, feel that security provisions for data confidentiality are incomplete and this leaves the availability for misconduct. Their requests are that anonymity must be ensured at all times and policies must be legislated through active enforcement (Genetics, 1999)

The second primary range of opposition is post-conviction testing. The American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, urged Congress to pass Senate Bill 589 in Pennsylvania to provide post-conviction DNA testing. The bill would allow an individual to file for a DNA test regardless if evidence was found before or after a conviction. Meaning, this motion can be filed whether the technology did not exist at the time of trial or the defense attorney failed to seek or there was no funding available at that time (ACLU, 2001).

Teamed with the Innocence Project over 143 state convicts have been exonerated by DNA testing throughout the United States since 1989. Over that period of time 34 states have passed laws to allow petitioning for DNA testing easier and ten states have enacted bills permitting post-conviction DNA testing, with circumstances pending. However, the problem now exists that guilty convicts are abusing the system by ordering DNA testing and tying up the backlog for current case testing and truly innocent post-conviction testing.

This not only over works the attending laboratory but it risks re-traumatization of the victims by requesting a new DNA sample for analysis and comparison, assuming one is not in the national data bank (USA Today, 2004). The positive approach to post-conviction testing is that it swings both ways, in that it can close unsolved cases that took place before DNA typing was invented. Revisiting cold cases may give a victim that had been living in fear new hope, confidence and a sense of closure.

The ultimate decision to pursue a cold case is ultimately up to the victim but that sense of control also returns a sense of empowerment that had been previously taken away (Markey, 2003). Conclusion Human identification in forensic science has evolved from fingerprint analysis and typing the blood of a suspect to mapping a person’s genetic profile through advances in DNA analysis. Implementing DNA technology has not and should not have been an easy feat for many crime labs, due to the high costs and rigorous standards required for accreditation.

The basic techniques of typing and analysis are easily trainable and the technology has been evolving since the first technique was invented, such as the advent of PCR. However, as discussed previously the data is as good as the sample so it must be stressed that the collection and careful handling of the sample be policed as well as the instrumentation technology. The database index has made a significant impact on the law enforcement community assisting in closing current and past cases of violence.

As more agencies contribute to the profile index it becomes more difficult for an offender to escape judicial prosecution. Finally, the criticism of the databasing index was examined under two main umbrellas of concern, our civil rights protection and the freedom to start over outside of the criminal justice system. Apart from of the attached benefits such as the way it has revolutionize crime fighting and the rigorous process of identification, some still believe DNA technology to potentially dangerous because of the amount of information about a person that may be obtained.

Regardless of how much faith we stock in mankind and the skepticism of scientific advancements, the integration of DNA analysis into forensic technology was the most important development of the century to the law enforcement community. “Perfect as the wing of a bird may be, it will never enable the bird to fly if unsupported by the air. Facts are the air of science. Without them a man of science can never rise” – Ivan Pavlov . DNA is a reproducible and indisputable fact and society has better science for it.

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