Dna Essay, Research Paper
Only a small
fraction of our total DNA makes us different
from gorillas, chimpanzees and other primates.
An even smaller fraction makes one person
different from the next. It’s these differences
that forensic DNA experts use to identify
people and determine the source of biological
evidence such as blood or semen found at a
DNA testing is powerful, sensitive and effective
in pointing to the guilty and absolving the innocent. To date, 67 convicted
felons have been exonerated nationwide based on DNA evidence. The vast
majority of those have been rape cases.
But DNA testing as it is now performed raises a question as to whether the
public should fear that an innocent person may be wrongfully convicted or a
legitimate suspect excluded from consideration.
Should we be concerned that the government can order the collection of
one’s DNA for purposes of identification, much like a set of fingerprints?
DNA contains much more personal information than a fingerprint.
Recognizing the importance of DNA, our government sponsored the Human
Genome Project in 1990 to determine the sequence of DNA sub-units within
each of our 46 chromosomes. The complete sequence will be deciphered
within the next few years. With this information, there will be dramatic
advances in many medically related areas, giving doctors the ability to
predict illness, make better diagnoses and perform gene therapy to correct
sometimes deadly genetic defects.
With the development of specialized
machines, it is now relatively easy to
make millions of copies of any gene and
determine its sequence. With the same
equipment, we can determine the
genetic composition of anyone who
becomes a suspect in a crime. This
information can be incorporated into a
local, state or national database for
In 1998, the FBI laboratory brought its National DNA Index System online.
DNA profiles from convicted offenders and crime scene evidence submitted
by forensic labs are combined into a single national database. As a result,
DNA evidence found at a crime scene in New York can be used to identify a
suspect in Virginia if a matching profile is found.
New York City Police Commissioner Howard Safir has proposed that all
those convicted of any crime be required to submit a specimen of their cells
for analysis and that their DNA profiles become part of the state’s database.
The city’s mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, has gone even further and endorsed the
idea of collecting DNA samples from everyone at birth. Both say the benefits
associated with increased testing are well worth the cost to the taxpayer.
But do we have anything to fear from universal DNA testing? Many argue
that the innocent certainly have nothing to worry about.
The perfect science?
Forensic DNA analysis is held in such high
esteem that it has developed a reputation of
infallibility. But is it really the perfect science or
can analysts make mistakes? A mistake could
cost a suspect his liberty or even his life.
This almost happened in England, where a
DNA test matched an innocent man to a burglary crime scene. Based on a
test using six genes, he was deemed the likely source of the crime scene
evidence. He matched the evidentiary profile perfectly. But in a more
rigorous 10-gene analysis, conducted because he presented a very strong
alibi, he was excluded as a suspect.
Britain’s DNA database is the largest in the world, consisting of almost
700,000 profiles. When it comes to criminal matters, civil liberties in Britain
are apparently less of a concern than they are in the United States. Most
English subjects tend to volunteer specimens when police ask them to do
As with any medical procedure, one must weigh the benefits of DNA testing
against any potential downside.
There are clearly a number of ethical and legal issues that must be
addressed. How can we be sure that someone won’t gain access to your
genetic profile and sell it to a prospective employer or insurance company?
It’s a frightening thought, but political candidates may one day find
themselves compelled to provide samples of their DNA. Genetic profiles
could then influence the way people vote.
The good, the bad and the ugly
Everything we are is in our DNA — personality, behavioral traits, intelligence,
the likelihood of developing a disease. In other words, the good, the bad and
To avoid the potential for abuse, the government should just retrieve
identifying information from the samples and destroy the rest.
I believe that while there are no easy answers, DNA testing is extremely
valuable as a crime-fighting tool — as long as safeguards are in place to
prevent abuse and ensure that genetic information doesn’t fall into the wrong
We all want to see an end to violent crime, but at what cost? Should we
take samples from all those arrested regardless of how serious the charge?
Should we test everyone at birth? Should we be concerned that
governmental police agencies may soon possess our total genetic
blueprint? With the phenomenon of computer hacking that now confronts us,
should we worry about database security? What do you think?
Lawrence Kobilinsky, Ph.D., is a professor of forensic science and associate provost at John
Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. He is an internationally recognized expert in
the areas of serology and DNA analysis and serves as a consultant to the U.S. State
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KOBILINSKY BOOK LIST
improve its use as a tool of investigation and adjudication in criminal cases.
The Commission will address issues in five specific areas: (1) the use of DNA in
post-conviction relief cases?view published report, (2) legal concerns including
Daubert challenges and the scope of discovery in DNA cases, (3) criteria for
training and technical assistance for criminal justice professionals involved in the
identification, collection and preservation of DNA evidence at the crime
scene?view published pamphlet, (4) essential laboratory capabilities in the face of
emerging technologies, and (5) the impact of future technological developments on
the use of DNA in the criminal justice system. Each topic will be the focus of
in-depth analysis by separate working groups comprised of prominent professionals
who will report back to the Commission.