"The U.S. public, usually indifferent to matters
scientific, has suddenly become obsessed with DNA"-- so began a 1994
article written at the height of national interest in the O.J. Simpson
trial, which introduced much of the general public to the language of DNA science and the power of DNA
evidence. The article, published in the distinguished science journal
Nature and co-authored by an unlikely pair--an MIT scientist who
was one of the earliest skeptics on DNA evidence and an FBI forensic
scientist -- offered an important and dramatic conclusion: the two
scientists "could identify no remaining problem that should prevent the
full use of DNA evidence in any court." In less than a decade, DNA had
entered the courtroom and weathered significant challenges from
scientific experts and jurists; now it was being ratified as the most
significant scientific tool in criminal justice since the fingerprint.
This excerpt from a Department of Justice study offers a brief history
of the rise and ultimate ascendance of DNA evidence in American courts.
The DNA Identification Act of 1994 formalized the FBI's authority to
establish a national DNA index for law enforcement purposes. The
database is being compiled from DNA "profiles" of offenders of serious
crimes (rape, other sexual assualt, murder) collected by the states.
"CODIS" currently holds more than 250,000 DNA profiles, but this number
will increase dramatically over the next few years as coordination with
the states continues to improve, and states' efforts continue to be
better funded and more fully implemented.
Over the last few years, state governments have begun
collecting samples of DNA from certain classes of offenders to be used
for "legitimate law enforcement uses." But what uses should we consider
legitimate? In this excerpt from a recent law review article, lawyer
Michelle Hibbert considers these questions: Should we collect the DNA
of only convicted criminals or anyone who enters the criminal justice
system, even if a person is later found innocent? What special privacy
concerns arise from DNA profiling techniques, and how do these privacy
claims balance with law enforcement objectives in building more
comprehensive databases to fight crime? What is there to be learned, or
feared, from inconsistencies between the states in how they compile
their DNA profile databases?
Over the last decade we have come to accept DNA evidence in the
courtroom. But today's groundbreaking genetic research holds the
possibility of completely remaking our most basic conceptions of
justice, according to law professor Steven Friedland. For example, will the presence
of "aggressiveness" genes become an adequate defense for a crime? Will
"genetic determinism" replace the concept of "free will" when our courts
try to decide questions of fault and blame? In this excerpt from his
provocative, wide-ranging treatment of these issues, Friedland tries to
imagine the legal world remade by the Human Genome Project.