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Over the course of time, DNA profiling has been proven to be a useful tool in as far as criminal investigations are concerned. The success of DNA aiding in the conviction of a criminal in a court of law, however, depends on a number of factors. For starters, the evidence has to be handled in the proper manner. Then the evidence should be analyzed in an unbiased forensic laboratory. The results should then be appropriately and fairly interpreted and the results should be effectively reported to the courtroom with utmost accuracy. DNA profiling, when used in the correct manner can aid in eliminating a suspect, provide evidence in support of a conviction and reduce the chances of an individual being wrongfully convicted (Wittmeyer, 2012).
The “Night Stalker” Case
In 1990, a number of brutal attacks occurred in Goldsboro, North Carolina, and the victims were senior citizens. In March that year, an elderly woman was sexually assaulted and was almost killed at her home. Her life was saved by her daughter’s early arrival. The suspect fled the scene but left behind materials that were meant to burn the victim as well as the residence for the purposes of concealing the crime. In July of the same year, an elderly lady was sexually assaulted and then murdered in her home. About three months later, another elderly woman was also sexually assaulted and then stabbed to death. The woman’s husband was also killed. Their residence was set ablaze in a bid to conceal the crime but firefighters were able to salvage the bodies (National Institute of Justice, 2002).
Vaginal swabs were done on all the victims and after DNA analysis was done, it was concluded that all the three crimes were perpetrated by the same person; the authorities, however, did not have a suspect. In ten years, the DNA was retested with newer technology and the profile was entered into the DNA database of North Carolina. This would facilitate comparison with other profiles that already existed in the database. In April 2001, an individual was convicted of shooting in an occupied dwelling. This kind of offence leads to be included in the DNA database of that state. After arrest, the individual’s blood sample was taken and after analysis, it was found to be a perfect match to the profile of the three attacks that had occurred a decade earlier. The suspect confessed to the crimes when he was confronted with the DNA evidence (National Institute of Justice, 2002). This case illustrates just one of the success stories in as far as DNA analysis is concerned.
Failure of DNA Analysis: The Victorian Bushfire Disaster
In February 2009, the Australian state of Victoria witnessed one of the worst forest fires in its history. 117 lives were lost and property was destroyed in the fire. A number of people had chosen to stay behind and fight the fire. With temperatures of about 800-1000 degrees Celsius, DNA testing was rendered inadequate. The forensic scientists still continued their efforts of identifying the bodies. A mother who knew exactly where her son’s body was when the fire started could not have the remains released for burial. The body had been taken from her home for purposes of identification through DNA testing and when this was not possible, it was rendered unknowable a month after the disaster (Turney, 2010). In this instance, DNA failed where social identification could have worked.
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Advances in DNA Technology
Advancements in the recent past have improved the ability of agencies tasked with the responsibility of law enforcement to make use of DNA, especially when solving old cases. Newer techniques enable forensic laboratories to generate profiles from evidence that may be visible to the naked eye, for instance, skin cells that may have been left on weapons. It is possible to get valuable DNA evidence that might not have been detected in the original examination (DNA Initiative).
Limitations of DNA Evidence
Even though DNA analysis has proven to be an important tool in solving crime, there are a few limitations, especially when it comes to either the acquittal or conviction of a defendant. Before DNA evidence is presented in a court of law, all parties involved need to be aware that the results are the estimates and are not intended to be precise. The findings are not concrete facts and are, instead, products of scientific and mathematical theory. The evidence in no way purports to imply the likelihood of guilt. DNA evidence should only be employed when one seeks to form a notion regarding the rarity of the accused person’s genetic profile. DNA evidence cannot be considered in isolation and all other evidence that relates to the given issue of identification must also be factored in (Haesler, 2008).
Forensics and Future Police Work
Forensics will continue to play an integral role in police work in the future. It is almost certain that newer procedures will be developed in the field of DNA analysis. There might even come a time in the near future when there will be miniaturized portable instrumentation whose objective will be to provide analysis at the scenes of crime and this will be facilitated by remote computer linked analysis. This phenomenon is guaranteed to facilitate faster identification of perpetrators and most importantly faster elimination or exoneration of those who are innocent. In the future more markers should be available to identify a person’s physical traits that contribute to the DNA. Such information will allow the police to narrow down on their search for a particular suspect, thereby, increasing the operation’s accuracy and efficiency (National Institute of Justice, 2000).
The importance of forensic analysis cannot be overstated. This field of science has successfully been used to identify suspects and link the same to the crimes. It has also played a big role when it comes to the identification of remains and especially in the event of natural disasters. When tracing maternity and paternity, this phenomenon has proved to be of great help and it has consequently led to the reunification of family members. Though it has a few limitations to it, it is a branch of science that has a lot more to offer. Time and advances in technology are sure to further improve the accuracy, as well as its application in human life. Governments and respective agencies need to acknowledge the importance of forensic science and more resources and support need to be channeled towards that direction.
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