Criminal justice and DNA
Criminal justice system is a term that refers to both the institutions and the practices that are always employed to ensure promotion of social control in the society is promoted. In most cases in all nations, these systems are comprised of the corrections, the courts and the law enforcements. These three institutions work in hand with each other to ensure that justice is attained in any given jurisdiction. This is sometimes promoted by the role that the courts practice in mitigating and deterring crimes. Through this, the courts sanction the individuals who violate the laws and they impose criminal penalties on them with the main aim being to rehabilitate them. However, it is also important to note that the persons subjected to these processes are also protected against the inhuman treatments such as the directions that the Fourth Amendment of the American constitution in which persons are protected from illegal searches by the arresting police officers and other agencies gives (Davies, 2007). This paper aims to explore some of the emerging trends in criminal justice in regards to DNA and also discuss some of their implications.
In ensuring that the courts dispense effective justice in the modern times, the courts have embraced the use of technology. In almost every field in the world, technology has played a significant role in ensuring that things have been made easy. There are several fields through which technology can assist determine the legal status of a person. Through technology, the assessment of the evidence that the witnesses give is simplified and the processing of the documents is also made easier. However, in many circumstances, the prosecutions have used technology to determine the DNA of the suspects. To some extent, the application of DNA has made it easy for those in the authorities to determine who the suspects are and this has played a very big role in simplifying the process of looking for the suspects. One field in which DNA is heavily used is as regards to rape cases. Through taking the DNA samples of the suspect and matching them with those from the laboratory, it is easy to tell whether the suspect was the real perpetrator of the crime in question or whether they are innocent. The courts have determined several cases basing the evidence on the samples of DNA taken.
In as much as it may look conclusive that the DNA evidence can solve this problem of identifying the perpetrators of the crimes, there are several challenges, both ethical and legal ones that present themselves. In most cases, their effects have been to undermine the validity of the DNA evidence, leading to weakening of the evidence based on the DNA. When this happens, then the admissibility of the DNA evidence is always put into doubt and as such, it becomes difficult for the prosecutor to proceed with the case if they did not have extra evidence to build their cases on. Secondly, a number of scholars have rejected the whole issue about DNA evidence, arguing that the means of collecting these DNA samples could be unconstitutional and in contrary to the Fourth Amendment of the American constitution which protects the rights of the citizens of America against some searches. As such, there is always laxity by the courts to employ DNA evidence to incriminate an individual. As such, the authorities have not thoroughly maneuvered the use of DNA evidence and there are several loopholes that have to be closed before settling on the best way forward as far as DNA evidence is concerned (Thomas, 2010).
Of late, technology has played a crucial role in the quest to seek justice. Many crime detectives have resolved to employ the DNA process in apprehending the perpetrators of the crimes they are investigating on. This is majorly done through the process of collecting and analyzing the DNA samples of various individuals who the authorities have suspected and trying to link them to the crime scenes. The DNA evidence employs the technique that makes it possible to identify the suspect of a given crime by using the technique of the unique genetic blueprints. In several cases, prosecutors have used DNA tests to prove that suspects participated in the crimes. This has made it possible and necessary for the people who have been wrongly convicted to be freed. In the United States of America, this type of evidence is admissible and it has been used to determine a number of high profile criminal cases effectively.
The method of looking for criminals and suspects using familial DNA has been used by various departments in American states to corner the criminals. One of these states is California. Through this method, an existing database in DNA is searched for the potentially existing family members to unknown family members of a suspect. Since the issue of familial DNA was introduced, California remains to be the only state so far to have published articles on the methods of familial DNA. This report was titled: The Influence of Relatives on the Efficiency and Error Rate of Familial Searching. This report investigated a number of things that were related to the field of familial DNA, including the false positives that existed, the rates at which there were misidentification of persons among others. Important to note in this report is the fact that when looking up for the close relatives, familial DNA is not too accurate as the distant relatives may be confused to be the first-degree relatives of an individual. If this happens, then the implications would be that there would be problems in determining who committed a given crime and as such, this method would bring a number of difficulties to ensuring that the criminals are caught.
The biggest role that is played by familial DNA is that of locating or tracing a relative of the criminal suspect if they are in the database. However, such searches to trace them may lead to unintended consequences which may lead to misleading results. As such, the process of looking for the criminals would be, to a large extent, complicated a lot. In most cases, this approach has been found to lead to disproportionately affect the families of the African-American origins. This problem is brought about mainly due to the intra-racial procreation and the ever huge representation of this category of people in the DNA database.
However, in relying in this DNA evidence, several problems have always arisen as a result. For instance, questions have always been raised as to whether the Fourth Amendment allows the state to collect DNA from the individuals who have been arrested and to be charged with criminal offences. In the courts, illegally obtained evidence is inadmissible. As such, the legality of using DNA evident in the courts has been challenged in several cases. The major problems as to the application of familial DNA is as regards to the provisions of the Fourth Amendment. These provisions are to the effect that individuals are protected by the constitution against searches that may be made by the law enforcers. As such, questions arise as to how the law enforcement officers could carry out this process without contravening the provisions of this Fourth Amendment.
The role played by the DNA evidences has also been employed widely in several circumstances to bring those who are responsible for the crimes into books (Munday, 2007). By applying the above argued concept of matching the DNA samples, it has become possible for the police offices to track and trace the criminals by taking the DNA tests to a close family member of the suspects, without even them knowing. As such, the role that has been played by the forensic sciences cannot be underrated at any given time as it has facilitated the arrest of individuals. By using the ‘Familial’ DNA searches, the suspects whose DNA is not in the records in the databases can now be tracked. This has been facilitated through a near match which is undertaken between the DNA discovered in the crime scene and the DNA of a close relative to the suspect, but whose DNA is in the records (the relative’s DNA). Although this is not the only mechanism that can be conclusively used in a case, it plays a vital role in helping investigations (Marzilli, 2007).
There have been arrests that have been made depending on the familial matches. For instance, this mechanism was used in the United Kingdom in the year 2004. In this case, there was a random act of violence in which a perpetrator threw a piece of a brick from a bridge onto a car that was driving below. The DNA evidence on the brick was taken for investigations. Apparently, the accused had no criminal record prior to this incident and as such, his DNA samples had not been collected unto the database, which could make it difficult for the authorities to identify him. However, through the application of this method of familial match, the suspect was identified. This is because the DNA that was found at the brick matched the DNA of a close relative to the suspect who’s DNA had been collected early and was in the database. By examining another DNA sample that was provided by the brick-thrower, it was found to be the exact match to the DNA on the crime scene and effectively, the suspect was arrested and charged.
The familial matching method, however, is not very common in the United States of America, because it is not widely used. Very few states acknowledge the role it plays, the states including Virginia, Colorado, Texas and California. This is a method that is very expensive and can only be used in cases that are exceptional.
A perfect example on how the familial matching has been employed in the United States of America was when this method was used to identify the ‘Grim Sleeper’ in California, 2010. In this matter, the serial killer had managed to evade the police for such a long period of time. However, the cops finally succeeded to identify and arrest him successfully when they matched the DNA sample of his close friend to the DNA that had been collected at the crime scene early on. By employing this method of matching the DNA, the suspect was brought onto record.
Another successful story on the mechanism of familial matching is the example of how Alberto DeSalvo was identified and effectively linked to the crimes he had been committing. The case in issue was on murder which was committed in the 1960s, by one Alberto DeSalvo. This gentleman was notoriously known as the ‘Boston strangler. Although he had been suspected for a long time with a number of high-profile killings, DeSalvo was never convicted because the prosecutors lacked the necessary evidence required for a conviction. However, although he died from a different issue unrelated to imprisonment, the familial DNA matches that were carried on after his dead confirmed the fact that he was the killer in almost all the crimes he had been suspected with early on in his life (National Commission on the Future of DNA Evidence (National Institute of Justice), United States, 2001). The familial matching was effected by matching the old crime scene’s DNA to the DNA of the suspect’s brother which was discarded in a water bottle. All these have demonstrated the role that technology has played in ensuring the justice system is up to date.
However much promising this method of familial matching may look the enforcement agencies have always shown some laxity in entirely relying on it to make convictions. As much as it has been successfully applied in other parts of the world to bring the suspects into records, familial matching has some weaknesses that may lead to its efficiency and efficacy being questioned. For instance, scientists have argued that the familial matching process has some weaknesses. For instance, as the researchers discovered and argued, cousins may be mistaken and misidentified as the siblings of the perpetrator. This is a very big mistake that may tarnish the name of the justice process. It will also mean that the investigators would have spent much of their time and resources to make an investigation which ends up being unsuccessful. As well, this may lead to interfering with the privacy of people who have nothing to do with a given crime at all. This is the problem that may b brought about by this familial matching.
Another problem that may be associated with the DNA evidence is the chance and probability that it may be erroneously analyzed. As such, and due to the reason that DNA evidence is deemed to be conclusive, it may lead to an innocent person in the society being incriminated for a crime that they did not commit or even have any clue on. Through this, the justice system would have failed in its functions for prosecuting the innocent in the society.
Another weakness of the DNA evidence is that the presence of a person’s DNA in a crime scene cannot conclusively mean that that person committed the crime. For instance, one may turn out to be a victim of circumstances and as such, their DNA could be found in the scenes. By taking DNA evidence as the conclusive mechanisms through which the justice systems determine the perpetrators, many innocent people would end up being convicted for crimes that they never committed. Perhaps this is the reason as to why there is reluctance in many states to allow DNA to be used as evidence in the courts.
In conclusion, technology has played a very significant role to the United States of America in ensuring that justice is easily dispensed. Through means such as familial DNA and other related technological innovation, the ancient problems of identifying the lawbreakers have been supplemented effectively and it is now easy to locate criminals without their consent.
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