Forensic-DNA profiling is widely used in criminal and civil cases around the world, and has become an established technology.DNA-based genetic analysis has been especially helpful in solving difficult cases such as murder and rape. The technique can also be used to help investigate incidents like car accidents, kidnappings, extortions, assaults, and robberies.
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Applications of DNA Forensics in the Legal System
DNA forensics first appeared in 1983 when a British court case attempted to seek identification for the relationship between an emigrant and his son through the use of DNA forensic evidence. Dr. Alec Jefferies discovered the application of DNA forensics and developed the technique of multi-locus probe testing, patented as “DNA fingerprinting”. The technique has been proven to be extremely powerful for exonerating suspects. It is an extremely accurate test because we never conclude the relationship between 2 individuals base on a single marker in the genome. 13 markers from our DNA are used to perform DNA fingerprinting analysis. The accuracy of DNA fingerprinting is beyond any doubt and hence the technique is used by many government laboratories of highly developed western countries to identify individuals.
Suspect Identification and Expert Witnesses
In order to identify the offender of criminal cases, DNA samples collected at the crime scene will be used to compare with the DNA profile from the suspects. In reality, mixing of DNAs may happen at the scene. To identify the real offender, fully understanding the surroundings of the scene and figuring out the suspect’s movement are a key step to the investigation. Through careful examination the suspect can be proven to be at the scene. However, we still need supporting evidence to prove that the suspect is indeed the offender. DNA samples from the scene can be retested to provide further information. In more challenging cases there could be more than 10 DNA profiles found. The DNA profiles would then indicate there are over 109 combinations possible under this circumstance. There are possibilities of mismatching the suspects. However, with the help of advanced technologies we are able to identify the suspects and hence the offenders. In many cases, the forensic laboratory would send an expert witness to court to explain the meaning of the results obtained. The minimal qualification of the expert witness would be a Medical Doctor Degree or Doctor of Philosophy in Biology, Genetics or Molecular Biology and have relevant experience. They have in-depth background knowledge to identify the genetic issues involved such as sibling relationships in bequest cases. In some of our DNA testing and scene findings, the defendant may request for an accurate, neutral and detailed expert review to give the lawyers some guidelines. These guidelines show all the possibilities of challenging arguments and reassure that the evidence they are holding is indeed the truth.
Missing people are causing significant concern around the world, and there have been cases where bodies are found but could not be identified. DNA profiling of crime scene evidence and comparison of samples from victims or suspects provides a powerful exculpatory and exclusionary tool that was proven to resolve many investigation of felonies. The DNA fingerprinting technology is used to isolate the DNA from the victim’s personal belongings (such as toothbrush and electrical shaver). Then it saves the DNA profile in the computer database. Studying close relatives of missing persons and unknown soldiers provide an indirect method to assign identity to recovered remains that would otherwise be unidentifiable. Then DNA testing will be performed for the dead body to identify the missing person. This procedure can be very complicated and challenging because for some abnormal cases, the skeleton can only be found in the crime scene and since it is calcified, DNA can no longer be found. However, thanks to our advanced technology, we are able to analyze the level of deterioration in the body and use only part of the body to perform the test.
The 11th Sept 2001 Attack on the US
DNA fingerprinting has been utilized in the United States after the September 11 attack for claiming missing or unknown identities resulting from this tragedy. The DNA identification project had been going on for three years and will continue until no further identifications can be made. There were 20,000 body parts recovered in total and more than 13,000 of which are still seeking identity. More importantly, the remaining hijackers of this incident were also arrested through this method.
The Tsunami on 26 Dec 2004 in Indonesia
The tsunami killed more than 500,000 people and left 1000 orphans in the country. DNA fingerprinting has significantly helped with the identification of missing people and parents of the orphans.