DNA

The past decade has seen great advances in a powerful criminal justice tool: deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA.  DNA can be used to identify criminals with incredible accuracy when biological evidence exists.  By the same token, DNA can be used to clear suspects and exonerate persons mistakenly accused or convicted of crimes.  In all, DNA technology is increasingly vital to ensuring accuracy and fairness in the criminal justice system. News stories extolling the successful use of DNA to solve crimes abound.  For example, in 1999, New York authorities linked a man through DNA evidence to at least 22 sexual assaults and robberies that had terrorized the city.  In 2002, authorities in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Fort Collins, Colorado, used DNA evidence to link and solve a series of crimes (rapes and a murder) perpetrated by the same individual.  In the 2001 “Green River” killings, DNA evidence provided a major breakthrough in a series of crimes that had remained unsolved for years despite a large law enforcement task force and a $15 million investigation. DNA is generally used to solve crimes in one of two ways.  In cases where a suspect is identified, a sample of that person’s DNA can be compared to evidence from the crime scene.  The results of this comparison may help establish whether the suspect committed the crime.  In cases where a suspect has not yet been identified, biological evidence from the crime scene can be analyzed and compared to offender profiles in DNA databases to help identify the perpetrator.  Crime scene evidence can also be linked to other crime scenes through the use of DNA databases.  Forensic DNA analysis is rapidly evolving.  Research and development of tools that will permit crime laboratories to conduct DNA analysis quickly is vital to the goal of improving the timely analysis of DNA samples.  Smaller, faster, and less costly analysis tools will reduce capital investments for crime laboratories while increasing their capacity to process more cases. 

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