The use of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) tests and databases to advance public safety has for a long time been a controversial subject. This emerging technology has a great potential to enhance investigative work of law enforcement and prosecution (Pattavina 14). According to Lazer (7), the development of a national DNA database in the United Kingdom started in 1990 and was accelerated in 1994 with the DNA identification act coming into existence.
The national DNA database has created a scenario in law enforcement whereby perpetrators of crimes may be ensnared by minute biological traces left behind at the crime scenes (Lee & Tirnady 180). Today, national DNA databases are being used in many countries across the world to ensure public security although each country has different laws regarding reasons for obtaining a DNA profile, when to wipe out a profile from the database and whether or not a DNA sample may be stored after analysis (Butler 448).
Whilst some people strongly believe that the use of DNA testing and DNA databases is unethical and violates individual privacy, others are convinced that having a national DNA database in place will make it easy for law enforcement officers to effectively deal with perpetrators and guarantee safety (Lazer 197). Most critics are opposed to the extensive usage of DNA tests and especially the retention of results in DNA databases for enforcing law. Even though none of the critics is completely opposed to the use of DNA results, all argue that the government should be limited in conducting DNA testing, storing the results, and using them appropriately (Lazer 197).
Benefits of a National DNA Database
According to Lazer (200), many benefits of DNA databases are yet to be realized given that a large number of DNA samples that have been collected are yet to be analyzed and coded. In addition, DNA has yet to be collected from many convicted criminals.
However, there are notable benefits in different parts of the world where DNA results have been used successfully. The British National DNA database for example, has provided numerous links between suspects and DNA left at the crime scenes making it possible to arrest offenders and ensure justice for the victims. Butler (448) indicates that from the onset of the British national DNA database, more than 2.5 million convicted perpetrator’s DNA profiles have been processed by the United Kingdom Forensic Science Service. Tony Blair, who was prime minister during the DNA expansion program in the United Kingdom, argued that a DNA database was so vital for catching criminals that it had to include every single citizen. In the United States, the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), a multi-tiered DNA database system, greatly assisted in forensic investigations carried out in different parts of the United States (Lazer 200).
Beyond any doubt, a national DNA database will certainly revolutionize the operations of the police force, considering that it offers the most powerful tool to be used by the police and prosecutors in investigating new crimes and helping to pin point suspects in rape, murder or any other criminal acts. The benefits of using DNA databases to guarantee public safety is therefore very substantial and the implementation of national DNA databases should be encouraged throughout the world (Trapp 75).
Studies have also indicated that the increased use of DNA evidence will help in minimizing the risk of future wrongful convictions. An FBI report showed that since 1989, DNA evidence has excluded the initial suspect in 25% of sexual assault cases. In addition, valuable DNA can be found on evidence that has existed for decades and this can assist in reversing previous incidences of injustice. DNA databases are thus very essential in protecting innocent people. Although a database may not be necessary to acquit or exclude non offenders, a DNA sample should be taken if there is concern that an individual was wrongly convicted. After identifying a suspect, the police ought to create a DNA profile and compare it to the crime scene data to establish the truth (Trapp 75).
Studies have also indicated that DNA tests play a very significant role in getting rid of criminals from the streets and creating a more secure environment. When people know that security is guaranteed, they are persuaded to proceed with their daily undertakings without fear. While defending his proposal to expand Maryland’s DNA database in the year 2008, Governor Martin O’Malley argued that it is possible to solve many crimes and take criminals off the streets so as to eliminate murders and rapes.
According to Trapp (75), people who commit violent crimes are unlikely to leave their finger prints at the crime scenes. However, research on the future of DNA evidence estimates that 30% of crime scenes contain blood, semen, or saliva of the perpetrator. It is therefore possible to use DNA detection to identify the guilty even when the police have no obvious suspects (75).
According to Pattavina (14), a DNA database can provide very intelligent leads for various crimes. Crime scene DNA profiles thought to belong to the perpetrators can be uploaded to a DNA database and matched to offender to provide a crucial investigative lead. It is also possible for crime scene DNA profiles uploaded to a DNA database to match other crime scene DNA profiles and these could provide information about the suspect’s movements over time and promote intra-agency intelligence sharing (14). Apparently, DNA testing can be used to determine whether the offender was a human being or some other creature (Lee & Tirnady 180).
Although there are reservations about the use of DNA tests in law enforcement, it is quite obvious that as more tests are done and the DNA databases continue to expand, the benefits of DNA usage will keep increasing. The continued usage of DNA tests will lead not only to more convictions but also to fewer crimes being committed in the first place, for the common good of all.
It is, however, worthwhile noting that a DNA database is not intended to replace conventional criminal investigations. There is a serious risk that investigators may use genetic evidence and exclude material that might prove the suspect innocent. There is also the possibility that not only the police but also the jury could be blinded by the application of scientific methods. Furthermore, it is very unlikely that the juries will be able to comprehend, or question the genetic information from the DNA databases. Based on this fact, the database should only serve to identify potential suspects, each of whom will then be investigated by more conventional means (Trapp 75).
Forensic DNA does not in itself, carry the entire truth and neither are DNA databases. Though helpful, this information may not be sufficient to prove whether a perpetrator is guilty or innocent.
Butler, John M. Forensic DNA Typing: Biology, Technology, and Genetics of STR Markers. Burlington, MA: Academic Press, 2005. Print.
Lazer, David. DNA and the Criminal Justice System: The Technology of Justice. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004. Print.
Lee, Henry C. & Tirnady, Frank. Blood Evidence: How DNA is Revolutionizing the Way we Solve Crimes. Cambridge, MA: Basic Books, 2003. Print.
Pattavina, April. Information Technology and the Criminal Justice System. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE, 2005. Print.
Trapp, Robert. The Debatabase Book: A Must-Have Guide for Successful Debate. New York, NY: International Debate Education Association, 2009. Print.