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DNA and Its Use in the Criminal Justice System, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

The use of DNA sampling and testing has become an integral part of law enforcement activity and the criminal justice system. In 2009, for example, the state of Florida passed a law that anyone arrested for a felony will automatically have a DNA sample taken. This does not mean that anyone convicted of a felony will be sampled; a mere arrest, guilty or not, is enough to trigger the forcible taking of a sample (Bousquet, 2009). The use of DNA has advantages and disadvantages for both prosecutors and those accused of crimes; in some cases, DNA testing has exonerated an accused criminal, while in other cases it has been used to obtain a conviction. The way in which DNA testing and sampling is used in the criminal justice system has been, and remains, controversial, though it is not something that is going away.

The scientists who testify about DNA samples in court cases are generally considered to be non-biased; they are there simply to represent the facts of what the DNA tells them (Houck, 2005). There have been any number of cases in the news in recent years where a lack of DNA evidence has been used to free a convicted criminal from prison (just this week, the so-called “West Memphis Three” were released after spending years in jail, when it was proven that none of the three men’s DNA was found anywhere in the vicinity of a brutal crime).

On the other hand, the absence of DNA evidence at a crime scene does not necessarily mean that the accused is innocent; it could simply mean that the perpetrator left no DNA evidence at the scene of a crime. In that case, other evidence, such as witness testimony, or fingerprints, or any of the many other ways that police and prosecutors gather and present evidence may be used to convince a jury of an accused’s guilt (Houck, 2005). The best way that DNA evidence can be used to exonerate an accused criminal is when the evidence gathered from a crime does include DNA samples, but none of those samples match the accused. As with any other science, however, errors are still always possible.

There are several ethical concerns involving the gathering and use of DNA sampling by law enforcement. The first concern involves the fact that poor people and minorities are more likely to be arrested, which means they are more likely than the wealthy and the white to have their DNA samples placed into a criminal database. The second ethical concern involves privacy; the DNA samples held by law enforcement contain much private information about the person from whom it was collected, such as potential health issues. A third concern is that some scientists are examining ways in which genetic information might somehow be used to predict criminal behavior, which opens up a potentially terrifying new way in which law enforcement might monitor private citizens (Houck, 2005).

Sir Alec Jefferies, the scientist who first determined how to use DNA in forensics, asserted that the only fair way to ensure that a government- or publicly-controlled database of DNA was fair and accurate would be to gather DNA samples from every single citizen; even then, there would still be a statistical margin of error, however slim (Houck, 2005).

It is clear that DNA testing is here to stay. It was not that long ago that the use of DNA testing, sampling, and evidence seemed like some sort of exotic science. In the widely-publicized trial of O.J. Simpson, who was accused of murdering his wife and another person, the prosecutors presented a wealth of DNA evidence that demonstrated that Mr. Simpson was present at the crime scene, and that he later left DNA evidence in his car and in his home. At that time of the trial, many people had never heard of the use of DNA in a criminal case, and it would not be surprising to learn that the jurors disregarded such evidence simply because they did not understand it. In this age of shows such as “CSI” and Law & Order,” much has changed; most people now recognize the legitimacy of the science behind the use of DNA evidence.

Despite the fact that the sciences of DNC, and the public understanding of DNA, have both come a long way in recent years, it does not mean the science is perfect. It must be remembered that the use of DNA evidence is, even at its best, simply another tool in the arsenal of law enforcement. As with any other form of evidence, mistakes and abuse can and do happen, and we must remain vigilant against such misuses. Because the use of DNA is not going away, the best we can hope for is that it continue to be used in as strictly-controlled and ethical manner as possible.

Bibliography

Bousquet, S. (2009, June 17). New florida law requires police to collect dna in felony cases. Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau ,

Houck, M. (2005). DNA and the criminal justice system. Journal of Criminal Investigation, 115(6),

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