Genetic Policing: The Uses of DNA in Police Investigations

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This profile is usually represented as a graph showing different peaks, which reports the patterns at different points where our DNA is most likely to be unique. However, DNA profiles are often not clean enough to conclusively identify an individual. But when DNA is damaged, as it often is through exposure to moisture or extreme temperatures, only some of these markers will be available, and forensics teams will generate a partial profile.

Partial profiles will match up with many more people than a full profile.

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And even full profiles may match with a person other than the culprit. Further complicating matters, a single DNA profile might be mistakenly generated when samples from multiple people are accidentally combined. Realistically, then, DNA profiles should only be thought of as being likely to have come from a specific individual.

A more rigorous statistical approach is likelihood ratio, which directly compares two hypotheses: the likelihood of the DNA coming from the suspect vs. Still, the ratio at most provides scientific support for a theory, not a yes-or-no answer.

Genetic policing: the use of DNA in criminal investigations - Northumbria Research Link

The report sought to clarify what DNA analysis can and cannot do within the criminal justice system. We all enjoy a good crime drama and although we understand the difference between fiction and reality, the distinction can often be blurred by overdramatised press reports of real cases. As a result, most people have unrealistic perceptions of the meaning of scientific evidence, especially when it comes to DNA, which can lead to miscarriages of justice.

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At times, DNA evidence has been misused or misunderstood, leading to miscarriages of justice. His lawyer insisted on more DNA tests, which exonerated him. Non-DNA evidence subsequently cleared Scott. Moreover, DNA recovered at a crime scene could have been deposited there at a time other than when the crime took place.

Someone could have visited beforehand or stumbled upon the scene afterward.

What FamilyTreeDNA sharing genetic data with police means for you

Alternatively, their DNA could have arrived via a process called secondary transfer, where their DNA was transferred to someone else, who carried it to the scene. Additionally, DNA technology is becoming more and more sensitive, but this is a double-edged sword. On one hand, usable DNA evidence is more likely to be detected than ever before.

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On the other hand, contamination DNA and DNA that arrived by secondary transfer is now more likely to be detected, confusing investigations. Another consideration is that people shed DNA at different rates. DNA is found in bodily fluids, such as blood, semen, and saliva, but we also lose microscopic pieces of skin and hair on a regular basis. Some people lose DNA more quickly than others—if they have a skin condition, for example.

If a thief uses a particular location as a stash, and a caretaker who suffers from eczema stumbles on it and reports it to the police, the forensics alone might implicate the caretaker. The quantity of their DNA present might suggest a significant period of time spent at that place.

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National DNA databases, then, present some ethical quandaries. Many cases would never have been solved if not for DNA databases. In the Lynette White case, the breakthrough came when the police obtained the DNA profile of a relative of the murderer. However, the retention of DNA details raises legitimate privacy concerns, especially in the context of familial searching.


Partial matches are more likely to lead to false positive identification of suspects who are already in the DNA database. Given that less privileged groups tend to be over-represented in DNA databases, this is a serious issue. In , a group of scientists asked whether forensic DNA databases increase racial disparities in policing.