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What is DNA testing? What are the arguments for DNA testing? Witnesses can also lie, possibly because they were coerced to do so. These can include things such as bite mark and shoe mark comparisons. DNA testing can help sort out where those mistakes were made. What are the arguments against forensic DNA testing?

Conclusion DNA testing is an important tool that can be used to find the guilty party and rule out those who have not committed the crime. Nicole Counts. Nicole Counts is a freelance writer, activist, and lover of books. You may also like About Us Newsroom Legal. Send Cancel.

Forensic Sciences | National Institute of Justice

Phelon , 46 the court upheld a law amending the arrestee collection laws to allow for testing by a police officer, at the time of the encounter rather than after a probable cause hearing. The law also shifted the burden to an eligible individual such as an arrestee whose case was dismissed to file a petition for expungement, even though evidence showed that the state averaged eight months in disposing of such petitions, and often declined or ordered them to be resubmitted for trivial administrative reasons.

The court first noted that the U. Supreme Court in Maryland v. A more fertile area of legal debate surrounds the use of particular database search methods that have engendered some controversy. The most controversial approaches involve three methods: familial searching, solved-case trawls, and the reliance on nongovernment databases for DNA match purposes. Controversies around familial searches, well documented in the scholarly literature, 48 abated somewhat in the s as DNA databases continued to expand, and the need to resort to less precise, near-miss methods diminished.

Nonetheless, with the adoption of additional loci to the standard DNA profile in the late s, familial searches became strikingly more efficient. One of the new loci traces male patrilineal descent, and thus made familial searches in large databases far more effective. Oddly, notwithstanding two decades of experience engaging in familial searches, no court has ruled on the legality of the practice. The courts to which the question has been most squarely presented have uniformly held that all parties involved lack standing: Specifically, the known person in the database cannot claim a harm, as they simply serve as a pivot to another party, whereas the persons found through a link cannot claim that their genetic information has been abused in any way.

The second controversial practice concerns solved-case trawls.

Because the identity of the perpetrator is known in the solved case, the analyst thus accomplishes indirectly through solved crime scene samples what cannot be done directly through compulsory collection of a DNA sample from the individual. Courts have disagreed about the legality of this practice.

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National Commission on the Future of DNA Evidence

Subsequent matches, however, are unlikely to receive the same lenient treatment. The third novel approach to DNA database searches marks the most significant, and growing, area of concern. Specifically, in an increasing number of cases, law enforcement has turned to private and nongovernmental DNA databases to find suspects when government databases lack a match.

DNA testing at state crime lab

This resort to DNA data created and stored for purposes other than law enforcement has heightened concerns about abuse of genetic information, and underscored the limitations of current law in regulating genetic information. The watershed moment occurred in , when a detective in Idaho confronted a cold case that refused to go away. When law enforcement DNA databases provided no leads, a detective assigned to the case had a clever idea. A company called Sorenson Genetics offered an online database of DNA profiles that were publicly searchable.

The detective commissioned Sorenson to test the crime scene evidence for its markers, and a search revealed a close match.

Speculating that it might belong to a relative of the suspect, the detective obtained a warrant to reveal the identity of the donor. That person, they learned, was an older man from Clinton, Mississippi. What is more, the son was within two years of her age, and his name—Mike—matched a name Tapp had given during an interrogation in the case. He also made horror films, including one that had a plot that loosely matched the Dodge killing.

Convinced they had found their man, investigators obtained a warrant and approached him at his current residence in New Orleans. They brought him in for questioning and took a DNA sample. But a month later the trail again went cold: The DNA was not a match. The incident garnered national news attention, and Sorenson withdrew its database from the public domain. But it quietly alerted investigators to a possibility that they had not yet fully considered: putting the enormous genetic repositories collected by private companies to use in service of law enforcement.

In , Ancestry.


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After a brief spell in the s, during which the Federal Drug Administration FDA attempted to clamp down on such services, industry lobbyists managed to secure passage of the Genetic Right to Know Act. After several years of bankruptcies, mergers, and restructurings, in , only two companies owned all the individually named testing services, Geneticon and GeneCo.

In , a scandal emerged involving one of those companies: Geneticon. It emerged that Geneticon routinely cooperated with law enforcement, providing access to its databases so long as police did not report publicly on their compliance. The cooperation came to light after a whistleblower disclosed documents in the wake of the public downfall of a popular mayor whose electoral challenger, the police chief, had used Geneticon contacts to determine that the mayor was transgender—something she had not publicly disclosed.

According to the released material, police would routinely contact Geneticon to compare unsolved crime samples with their databases, and then provide any identifying matches to police. Police in turn surreptitiously collected confirmatory samples from the suspects, and then either devised a ruse to undertake public collection, or created plausible stories to explain how those samples became of interest. Outraged, consumers withdrew their support from the company, which closed in early It sold all of its genetic assets to its rival, GeneCo, which now operates the single largest repository of private genetic information in the world.

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On a significant number of occasions involving high profile terrorism, homicide, or rape cases, law enforcement has successfully gained access to GeneCo databases to conduct DNA searches. It seems, however, that in routine cases, GeneCo has required that police obtain a warrant with probable cause, unless it is a rare instance of a courtesy release. Standards surrounding the legality of both kinds of disclosure have not yet been fully adjudicated in the courts.

In addition, although many researchers have cited GeneCo as the source of data, the precise nature and scope of those disclosures are yet undetermined. The final area of legal uncertainty in forensic DNA testing concerns the types of tests to which samples may be subjected. As explained above, during the early ascendance of DNA testing, the type of testing focused on STRs, or short tandem repeat segments of the genome.

Although testing for sex was a routine part of forensic analysis, as well as general projections about ancestry, genetic tests otherwise did not look at identifying characteristics of any kind. Forensic testing also specifically shied away from ascertaining the actual sequence of genetic code that made up any region of the genome.

These limitations were perceived by early courts as essential to safeguard the privacy of individuals, which in turn justified acceptance of broad compulsory DNA testing. In the late s, that principled line between identifying and non-identifying information began to erode from all directions. First, a series of court opinions accepted familial searches as legitimate uses of DNA databases. Although these cases concerned a search method and not a kind of test, they laid the foundation for using genetic testing to reveal more intimate information.


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  • That is, courts upholding familial searches tended to rely on three lines of reasoning, and those three lines later provided the foundation for authorizing more intrusive forms of DNA testing. First, courts identified the privacy intrusion of gleaning familial connections through DNA tests as minimal. Second, they endorsed the practice of returning to a sample collected under one legal regime, and subjecting it to further tests without any additional legislative or judicial approval.

    For instance, a sample collected by compulsion pursuant to a law that authorized only testing of thirteen loci for STR information could lawfully be retested for new genetic data, such as Y-chromosome STR data showing patrilineal relatedness. By endorsing the concept that law enforcement itself dictated the proper scope and kind of DNA testing, rather than courts or legislatures, they effectively wrote police a blank check to engage in any kind of testing they deemed worthwhile, at very little risk of peril.

    Third, courts failed to make meaningful distinctions among the kinds of information revealed by genetic testing. Even though the information gleaned from familial search practices became more intimate as time wore on, courts never drew the line forbidding these greater intrusions. For instance, initially the Y-STR information was used only to establish that the unsolved sample and the familial lead in fact shared a common relative. But as search and typing practices became more sophisticated, investigators were able to discern from genetic typing the probable surname and physical appearance of the donor of a DNA sample.

    Coupled with an emerging acceptance of the use of phenotypic testing or the creation of images known as genetic mug shots, based on DNA data , the line between testing for expressive and non-expressive genetic traits further dissipated. The chain of reasoning for courts upholding testing for a variety of medical and physical traits traced easily from the early STR methods that routinely ascertained sex and ancestry, through familial methods that identified surname and biological relatedness, up through sequence identification systems that predicted physical appearance, medical conditions, and even certain behavioral propensities.

    These transitions were greatly enabled by the shift in default forensic DNA typing systems from the STR -based methods of the —20 period to the sequencing NGS methods commonly in use today. The first major case stemmed from a case involving twins in Boston. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Sporadic admissibility hearings under both Daubert and Frye v. United States 59 followed, but by the mids most major jurisdictions had either switched entirely to NGS systems or had the capacity to conduct NGS testing in high-priority cases. Only one court had held the method scientifically unsound and excluded the evidence, but that court was later overturned on appeal.

    Oddly, the legal posture of the cases—which started as admissibility hearings to gauge evidentiary reliability, which was not really in question after the early years—overshadowed the true concern, which was the threat to privacy represented by switching to sequencing technology. By the time the American Civil Liberties Union ACLU mounted a civil challenge to the practice, the method had already been accepted in a significant number of cases. In addition, that suit, which ultimately failed, had to overcome a series of legal hurdles, since the decision to test using NGS methods was made informally by state authorities rather than in any legal edict.

    The recent announcement in that researchers had identified what they believe to be the so-called violence gene has yet again raised the stakes on genetic testing. Just last year, a new company called RiskAvert began selling to states and localities a modified risk instrument that incorporated both behavioral and genetic findings. The instrument, which the company claims was validated extensively although it refuses to produce specific studies, consists of a genetic test for the violence gene that is scored alongside a twenty-seven-question instrument designed to segregate high, medium, and low risk offenders.

    So far, it has been met with a warm response in the law enforcement community, which has been looking for alternatives to the crude instruments in place for bail, preventive detention, and corrections-related determinations. In November , Maricopa County began a pilot program involving judges on bail setting and high-felony calendars.