|STRANDS OF JUSTICE
Do DNA databanks infringe on
July 17, 1998
Read answers to your questions
A state-by-state breakdown of legislation regarding DNA databanks.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of law.
A speech by head of the FBI's Combined DNA Index.
DNA, the genetic blueprint stored in every cell of the human body, is changing the face of American justice.
Investigators are linking suspects to crime scenes - often with 99 percent confidence -- by comparing often infinitesimally small DNA samples found to DNA information stored in state-run databanks. Defense attorneys are exonerating their clients with similar methods.
"It's a two-edged sword," Dr. Paul Ferrara, director of the Virginia Division of Forensic Science, told the NewsHour's Betty Ann Bowser. "If you are guilty of a crime, DNA is probably your worst enemy. On the other hand, if you're innocent, it's your greatest friend."
As a result, all states require sex offenders to submit DNA samples to a FBI databank, and many state lawmakers are forcing other convicts to submit DNA samples as well. [View a state-by-state analysis of DNA databank legislation.]
Some defense attorneys fear mandated DNA samples represent an unlawful search of ones body without probably cause.
"The state is saying, in effect, you may be a danger in the future because you were in the past, and, therefore, we need to register your DNA," Boston defense attorney Benjamin Keehn told the NewsHour's Bowser. "That is a fundamentally different way that the government has be heretofore been permitted to threat its citizens."
DNA matching technology represents a potentially revolutionary new tool that could bring the guilty to justice and free the innocent, but does it trample suspects' civil rights?
Questions about this topic were answered by defense attorney Benjamin Keehn and Dr. Paul Ferrara of the Virginia Division of Forensic Sciences, and joined by Barry Sheck, the Benjamin Cordozo Law School professor who heads "The Innocence Project," a program that uses DNA evidence to free wrongfully-convicted people.