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Genetic Justice

Genetic Justice: DNA Data Banks, Criminal Investigations, and Civil Liberties

Sheldon Krimsky
Tania Simoncelli
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 448
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  • Book Info
    Genetic Justice
    Book Description:

    National DNA databanks were initially established to catalogue the identities of violent criminals and sex offenders. However, since the mid-1990s, forensic DNA databanks have in some cases expanded to include people merely arrested, regardless of whether they've been charged or convicted of a crime. The public is largely unaware of these changes and the advances that biotechnology and forensic DNA science have made possible. Yet many citizens are beginning to realize that the unfettered collection of DNA profiles might compromise our basic freedoms and rights.

    Two leading authors on medical ethics, science policy, and civil liberties take a hard look at how the United States has balanced the use of DNA technology, particularly the use of DNA databanks in criminal justice, with the privacy rights of its citizenry. Krimsky and Simoncelli analyze the constitutional, ethical, and sociopolitical implications of expanded DNA collection in the United States and compare these findings to trends in the United Kingdom, Japan, Australia, Germany, and Italy. They explore many controversial topics, including the legal precedent for taking DNA from juveniles, the search for possible family members of suspects in DNA databases, the launch of "DNA dragnets" among local populations, and the warrantless acquisition by police of so-called abandoned DNA in the search for suspects. Most intriguing, Krimsky and Simoncelli explode the myth that DNA profiling is infallible, which has profound implications for criminal justice.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51780-5
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Law, General Science, Biological Sciences, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
    Anthony D. Romero

    On a Saturday morning in March 2009, a young woman named Lily Haskell attended a peace rally in San Francisco to express her opposition to the Iraq war. During the course of the demonstration Haskell was arrested on suspicion of trying to help another protester, who was being held by police. Within hours Haskell was released. Although she was not charged with any crime, she was required to submit a DNA sample simply on the basis of her arrest.

    Haskell is one of thousands of innocent individuals who have had their DNA forcibly collected, analyzed, and stored by police. She...

    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xviii)

    On May 23, 1993, a 62-year-old woman was strangled to death in her home in Idar-Oberstein, Germany. The only clue that surfaced from the police investigation was a DNA sample obtained from a brightly colored teacup that was found on the woman’s kitchen table. An analysis of the DNA revealed that it had come from a woman.

    Eight years later a 61-year-old antiques dealer was strangled with garden twine in the southwestern city of Freiburg. DNA collected from items in the shop and the shop’s door handle was found to be identical with that of the 1993 teacup DNA. A...

  6. PART I: DNA in Law Enforcement:: History, Applications, and Expansion

    • Chapter 1 Forensic DNA Analysis
      (pp. 3-27)

      For those who can benefit from a primer on genetics and DNA profiles, this chapter reviews the nomenclature and genetic technology that form the basis of forensic DNA analysis. After a brief discussion of the basics of the genetic code, we explain such topics as DNA typing methods, short tandem repeats (STRs), and random-match probabilities. This chapter is designed for people who have very little background in molecular biology and forensic DNA analysis. Those who already possess this knowledge can proceed directly to chapter 2.

      Deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA for short, is the chemical in cells that specifies the composition...

    • Chapter 2 The Network of U.S. DNA Data Banks
      (pp. 28-45)

      In their original conception, forensic DNA data banks were designed to hold DNA profiles of violent felons and recidivist sex offenders. Because of their initial successes, over the last 15 years there has been an inexorable drive among law-enforcement agencies to push their use to their limit, stopping just short, at least for the present, of including every person’s DNA in a national network.

      By the new millennium every state law-enforcement agency and many local ones in the United States had become connected through a coordinated and federally managed forensic DNA data bank. At the heart of this system is...

    • Chapter 3 Community DNA Dragnets
      (pp. 46-63)

      Floyd Wagster Jr., an African American living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 2002, was on probation for marijuana possession. The Baton Rouge police telephoned Wagster in August 2002 to inform him that he was not in trouble but that they wanted him to come to the station for questioning. Wagster told the deputy that he wished to talk to his lawyer before going to the police station. About an hour later the deputy called Wagster again and inquired if he had spoken to his lawyer. Wagster responded that he had not yet gotten a call back from his attorney. He...

    • Chapter 4 Familial DNA Searches
      (pp. 64-88)

      In March 2003 motorist Michael Little suffered fatal injuries when a drunken individual hurled a brick from a footbridge in Surrey County in the south-east of England. The brick pierced the windshield of his moving vehicle, hit him in the chest, and caused him to suffer a fatal heart attack. Blood traces left on the brick were believed to be those of the perpetrator. The blood, it turned out, was from a wound the perpetrator had received during an earlier attempt to steal a car. Police profiled the DNA in the blood and compared it with 2.35 million profiles it...

    • Chapter 5 Forensic DNA Phenotyping
      (pp. 89-107)

      An unidentified girl, presumed to be 3 or 4 years old, was found decapitated in Kansas City, Missouri, in 2001. Local residents had given her the name “Precious Doe” in order to humanize her tragic fate and draw public interest to her case. The police sent her DNA to be analyzed for clues to her ethnic heritage. Results of her DNA test indicated that Precious Doe was of mixed ancestry, approximately 40 percent Caucasian and 60 percent African American. From the tests, forensic specialists in DNA analysis estimated that Precious Doe had a white grandparent. Police also had a tip...

    • Chapter 6 Surreptitious Biological Sampling
      (pp. 108-122)

      In 1974 Barbara Lloyd was raped and stabbed to death in her home in Buffalo, New York. Police had a suspect in Leon Chatt, the husband of the victim’s stepsister at the time of the murder, but no evidence to connect him to the crime scene. Over three decades later the police revived the case with DNA retained from the forensic evidence of the crime scene. Although police did not have enough evidence to obtain a warrant for a search, they followed Chatt around, picked up his DNA after he spat on the sidewalk, and compared it with the 30...

    • Chapter 7 Exonerations: When the DNA Doesn’t Match
      (pp. 123-142)

      Comparisons between scientific and judicial methods of fixing belief can be found in several recent studies.³ Both the scientific and legal communities seek the truth, albeit in different contexts. The former focuses on the pursuit of knowledge of processes within the natural world, while the latter seeks guilt or innocence of human behavior in the social world. As noted by the late sociologist Robert Merton, science operates within a system of norms, including organized skepticism, which implies that scientists place a high burden on validating a claim.⁴ Science is also deemed to be self-correcting. Either by retesting a result or...

    • Chapter 8 The Illusory Appeal of a Universal DNA Data Bank
      (pp. 143-164)

      In January 2007 Glamour magazine ran an editorial titled “Let’s Catch More Rapists Before They Strike Again.” The editorial calls for the massive expansion of state DNA databases. The idea behind the expansion is based on a few known cases where a recidivist rapist, once arrested for a nonfelony violation, was not apprehended until he had committed multiple rapes. Had the individual’s DNA been placed in a data bank after the first arrest, the argument goes, then the second and subsequent rapes might have been prevented.

      Glamour wrote:³ Currently, most states get DNA samples only from convicted felons; victims’ advocates...

  7. PART II: Comparative Systems:: Forensic DNA in Five Nations

    • Chapter 9 The United Kingdom: Paving the Way in Forensic DNA
      (pp. 167-185)

      The United Kingdom has paved the way in forensic DNA technology. Its massive National DNA Database (NDNAD) is the oldest, largest per capita, and most inclusive national forensic DNA database in the world.³ Founded in 1995, it currently contains DNA samples and profiles from nearly 4.5 million individuals, or approximately 7 percent of the U.K. population of 61 million. On file are DNA profiles drawn from people convicted of a wide range of crimes, including serious violent crimes and minor offenses, children as young as 10, and arrestees, many of whom have not been convicted of any crime.

      It is...

    • Chapter 10 Japan’s Forensic DNA Data Bank: A Call for Reform
      (pp. 186-193)

      DNA testing was first used as a tool in criminal investigations in Japan in a 1992 rape trial. For the first decade crime laboratories in Japan relied on DNA analysis using two different loci: MCT 118 and HLADQ-a. In August 2003 the National Police Agency (NPA) introduced the “STR-9 locus multiplex kit.” Currently the NPA uses an analysis of 15 loci in generating a profile.²

      The taking of DNA is considered a “search” under Article 35 of Japan’s Constitution, which guarantees:

      The right of all persons to be secure in their homes, papers and effects against entries, searches and seizures...

    • Chapter 11 Australia: A Quest for Uniformity in DNA Data Banking
      (pp. 194-204)

      Soon after DNA evidence was first introduced into the criminal justice system as an investigatory tool, the Australian government began a process to develop a comprehensive legislative scheme for collecting DNA for its use by law enforcement. In 1990 the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General established the Model Criminal Code Officers Committee, which was tasked with developing a Model Forensic Procedures Bill. After 10 years the committee produced a final draft of a model bill that gave authorization and specified procedures for the collection and use of DNA (as well as fingerprints, photographs, impressions, and other forensic materials) by law enforcement....

    • Chapter 12 Germany: From Eugenics to Forensics
      (pp. 205-211)

      Germany was initially resistant to establishing a DNA database because of public concerns over personal privacy and data protection. Because of the eugenics movements during German fascism in the mid-twentieth century, genetic information was considered very sensitive in postwar German society. However, in the aftermath of a few highly publicized cases of sexual abuse and child murder in Germany during 1996–1997, the German minister of justice asked for an inquiry into the possibility of creating a forensic DNA database. A spokesperson for the Ministry of the Interior issued a public statement that Germany could no longer afford to get...

    • Chapter 13 Italy: A Data Bank in Search of a Law
      (pp. 212-222)

      Unlike in most Europe an countries and the United States, police in Italy initiated operation of DNA data banks without proper legislative authorization. DNA was collected and stored by police and the Carabinieri Special Corps well before legislation worked its way through the Italian Senate in 2008 and the House in 2009. It is not clear how many databases were in existence in public or private hands during this period. This de facto database operation was criticized both within Italy and internationally. According to a 2007 report on Europe an Union (EU) forensic DNA data banks:

      Although there is currently...

  8. PART III: Critical Perspectives:: Balancing Personal Liberty, Social Equity, and Security

    • Chapter 14 Privacy and Genetic Surveillance
      (pp. 225-251)

      Personal privacy is highly valued in most modern democratic societies, although there is a broad spectrum in the ways in which privacy is interpreted and protected among different countries. While generally thought of as simply the “right to be left alone,” the concept of privacy is highly complex, involving a number of overlapping personal interests. These include having control over our personal information and decision making and an ability to exclude others from our personal things and places. In the United States privacy protection has a long and complex history. Our government was founded on the principle that privacy—as...

    • Chapter 15 Racial Disparities in DNA Data Banking
      (pp. 252-274)

      It is well documented that the American criminal justice system is heavily racialized. By this we mean that racial disparities have been identified in all parts of the system, from arrest, trial, and access to legal services to conviction, sentencing, parole, execution, and exoneration. For example, in regard to prison demographics, New York University sociologist Troy Duster reported that “African Americans are currently incarcerated at a rate approximately seven times greater than that of Americans of Europe an descent.”² Duster’s data show that the disparity in black versus white incarceration has grown significantly in recent years: in the 1930s blacks...

    • Chapter 16 Fallibility in DNA Identification
      (pp. 275-304)

      It can justifiably be argued that, to date, the greatest contribution to civilization arising directly from the genetics revolution has been the exoneration of hundreds of falsely convicted individuals who have logged thousands of years in prison, some on death row. The failure to match the DNA of the alleged perpetrator with the DNA at the crime scene has, in most cases, trumped other physical and circumstantial evidence, including eyewitness testimony, that juries deemed “beyond a reasonable doubt” in deciding the guilt of an innocent individual. For many, DNA exculpatory evidence has come to mean “beyond a conceivable doubt.”


    • Chapter 17 The Efficacy of DNA Data Banks: A Case of Diminishing Returns
      (pp. 305-320)

      Forensic DNA data banks have been the subject of many narratives, but none more forceful in its advocacy and more universally held than the one that claims that, ceteris paribus, the larger the data banks, the more crimes will be solved and the more crimes will be prevented. When the New York State Senate was debating whether to expand the state’s forensic DNA databases to arrestees, then Senator Joseph L. Bruno said, “Expanding the scope of the DNA databank means expanding the ability of our law enforcement officials to solve both new crimes and old ones.”²

      There are certainly intuitive...

    • Chapter 18 Toward a Vision of Justice: Principles for Responsible Uses of DNA in Law Enforcement
      (pp. 321-336)

      Over the last 20 years we have witnessed an extraordinary explosion in the development and use of DNA technology in the criminal justice system. Initially DNA was relied on as an occasionally useful tool in investigating very serious crimes. In those cases DNA, sought from suspects by way of a court-issued warrant supported by probable cause, was compared with DNA left behind at the scene of a heinous crime. But as we have described throughout this book, this fairly circumscribed use of DNA analysis has given way to a massive and ever-expanding system of collecting and permanently retaining DNA for...

    (pp. 337-340)
  10. NOTES
    (pp. 341-392)
    (pp. 393-394)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 395-406)