Written by Allison Franks, Grace Holzerland, Jordyn Kemp, Gabriel Potts, and Cam Williams
DNA technology in forensic science has been a developing aspect of the criminal justice system since the mid 1980s. It has led to the convictions of many major offenders and helped solve what seemed to be unsolvable cases in what many refer to as “cold cases”. To say that DNA testing in criminal investigations is an infallible process would be wishful thinking. The process of DNA testing is performed by a PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) test, the PCR test when conducted with the correct procedures has pinpoint accuracy. DNA testing doesn’t need to rely on eyewitness reports or other aspects of a criminal investigation that can be forgotten or misinterpreted by a jury/investigator over time. Like I previously stated, DNA testing is not infallible. There are cases where human error during the procedure of running the DNA test have presented the court with incorrect test results causing individuals to be wrongfully convicted like the case we presented in class with Josiah Sutton and the Huston PD. Thankfully that case was overturned due to competent individuals re-running the tests and found that the lab who originally ran the tests made many errors that led to the wrongful conviction. For this reason, I don’t believe DNA testing is the one true answer for convicting someone but more of a means to clearer evidence but when utilized correctly and with all other aspects of an investigation it can provide a definitive answer.
There are many ethical issues that come with the use of DNA testing, like genealogy. During our podcast, a case that took place in Pensacola, Florida in the year 1985 was discussed. This case was recently solved in November of 2020 by using genealogy. The investigators that worked on this case had been working with experts in genealogy for over a year when they caught a break. Investigators discovered that someone’s DNA on an ancestry site was a familial match to the DNA found at the crime scene 35 years ago. Using that DNA, investigators created a family tree that eventually led them to their perpetrator, and then they used his discarded cigarette butt for the actual DNA test to match it to the crime scene DNA. The question posed is: is this ethical or should it not be allowed for investigators to use information found through things like 23andme? In my personal opinion, I think it should most certainly be allowed. I think that if you send in your DNA to a company for nearly anything then you’ve basically signed away your rights to what they can and cannot do with that DNA. It is my belief that if something is being done to solve a crime and bring peace to a victim’s family, it should certainly be done. However, others may think that your DNA is your property, and companies, or police departments, should have your permission before using it for any purpose. I completely understand that dilemma, and in some aspects I even agree with it, but again I think once you willingly give up that DNA you give up whatever rights you had to it.
While technologies like DNA testing are an important part of forensics and the criminal justice system, it is important to remember that it is only one factor in a criminal case and that all evidence must be considered. This is because DNA testing is not always accurate. Factors such as human error have to be considered when evaluating DNA evidence in a criminal case. Many people have been wrongly convicted simply because of lab errors in DNA evidence, and these errors have cost people years of their lives that they will never get back. This may be due to the fact that many members of society think that DNA evidence is 100% incriminating because of crime shows they watch on TV. To counteract this, members of the jury must be educated on the accuracy of DNA testing and not go into the trial thinking they know everything there is to know about DNA just because they watched a few episodes of a crime show. While DNA evidence can strongly back up a criminal case, it is very important for members of a jury to focus on all parts of the case, not just the DNA evidence.