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Genetic Witness

Genetic Witness: Science, Law, and Controversy in the Making of DNA Profiling

Jay D. Aronson
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Genetic Witness
    Book Description:

    When DNA profiling was first introduced into the American legal system in 1987, it was heralded as a technology that would revolutionize law enforcement. As an investigative tool, it has lived up to much of this hype-it is regularly used to track down unknown criminals, put murderers and rapists behind bars, and exonerate the innocent.Yet, this promise took ten turbulent years to be fulfilled. In Genetic Witness, Jay D. Aronson uncovers the dramatic early history of DNA profiling that has been obscured by the technique's recent success. He demonstrates that robust quality control and quality assurance measures were initially nonexistent, interpretation of test results was based more on assumption than empirical evidence, and the technique was susceptible to error at every stage. Most of these issues came to light only through defense challenges to what prosecutors claimed to be an infallible technology. Although this process was fraught with controversy, inefficiency, and personal antagonism, the quality of DNA evidence improved dramatically as a result. Aronson argues, however, that the dream of a perfect identification technology remains unrealized.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4383-3
    Subjects: Law, History of Science & Technology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. CHAPTER 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    For nearly a century, the law enforcement community has been searching for a forensic silver bullet—a foolproof technique that can identify absolutely the perpetrator of violent acts from the physical traces left at the crime sceneandprovide a tool for tracking and surveillance of past and future criminals. Throughout this history, various techniques have emerged as potential candidates, including fingerprinting, anthropometrics (the systematic measurement of body parts), and the voiceprint. All of these techniques, however, were eventually shown to have technical and practical restrictions.

    In 1984, the most recent of these contenders was invented in England by a...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Science for Hire
    (pp. 7-32)

    Alec Jeffreys, a geneticist at the University of Leicester in Britain, invented the first usable version of DNA profiling in 1984. After its debut in the British legal system in 1985, the technique rapidly spread to the United States. From the start, there was intense competition in the American DNA profiling market, with two biotechnology companies—Lifecodes Corporation and Cellmark Diagnostics—introducing variations of the technology within months of one another. Both firms were business units of large, publicly traded, multinational chemical conglomerates, each with yearly sales of well over $20 billion, that were hoping to cash in on the...

  6. CHAPTER 3 DNA on Trial
    (pp. 33-55)

    The lack of an admissibility hearing changed for Lifecodes in the autumn of 1987, when twenty-four-year-old Tommie Lee Andrews was brought to trial for a rape in Orlando, Florida. He had been arrested prowling in a woman’s yard in the wee hours of the morning in the southeastern section of the city. She lived in a neighborhood that had seen almost two dozen instances of rape, breaking and entering, or assault in the past year. The circumstances of these crimes were similar enough that police quickly concluded that they were dealing with a serial rapist. Andrews soon became the prime...

  7. CHAPTER 4 Challenging DNA
    (pp. 56-88)

    By the end of 1988, the results of DNA profiling had been admitted as evidence without reservation or doubt in more than eighty trials across the country and had been used to obtain confessions of guilt in countless more. Judges were inclined to repeat the claims of prosecution witnesses verbatim in their decisions while dismissing the protestations of defense witnesses as being irrelevant to the issues at hand. The prosecution’s uncontested proclamation that DNA typing would produce the right answer or no answer at all showed up in most published judgments during this period.¹ The early success of the technique...

  8. CHAPTER 5 Public Science
    (pp. 89-119)

    By mid-1989, Lifecodes’ and Cellmark’s claims about the validity and reliability of their DNA evidence had been seriously challenged, although not totally undermined, by a nascent network of defense lawyers and academic scientists. In admissibility hearings inCastro, Schwartz,and other cases, defense experts argued with some success that the private companies’ DNA typing regimes were fundamentally flawed, both in design and practice. To begin with, they claimed that the private companies had rushed their DNA evidence to court and in the process evaded adequate peer review by all of the relevant scientific communities. They also argued that Cellmark and...

  9. CHAPTER 6 The DNA Wars
    (pp. 120-145)

    The FBI’s success in gaining control of DNA profiling quickly attracted the attention of a few defense attorneys who were deeply skeptical that the bureau’s testing regime was any better than those of Lifecodes or Cellmark. Because the tactics used against the private labs—that is, making a strong distinction between forensic and nonforensic uses of the technique—achieved only limited success in court, the defense decided to focus on the population genetics issues that had played a secondary role in early cases such asCastroandSchwartz.

    In a series of trials culminating in the Toledo, Ohio, federal court...

  10. CHAPTER 7 The Debate in Washington
    (pp. 146-172)

    While all participants in the debates over DNA evidence conceded that the FBI’s technical standards had clearly become dominant over Lifecodes’ and Cellmark’s by 1990, the fate of the bureau’s population genetics and statistical methods used to calculate the probability of a random match, as well as the social arrangements that it had created to ensure the validity and reliability of its evidence, were hotly contested. Witnesses from both sides of the debate believed that a nonpartisan, extralegal mediator needed to step in. It was in this context that the U.S. Congress carried out hearings on how to regulate DNA...

  11. CHAPTER 8 The DNA Wars Are Over
    (pp. 173-202)

    When Americans think about controversies over DNA evidence that have taken place in this country,Castro, Yee,and the National Research Council probably do not figure too heavily in our collective memory. Rather, visions of white Ford Broncos, bloody gloves that don’t fit, and footprints from “ugly-ass” Bruno Maglia shoes dominate our perceptions of the use of DNA in the criminal justice system. Who can forget the low-speed highway chase, Judge Ito, nonstop news coverage of the “Trial of the Century,” the theatrics of the highly paid legal “Dream Team,” and the racially charged reaction to the not-guilty verdict? Justified...

  12. CHAPTER 9 The Legacy of History
    (pp. 203-212)

    On 30 October 1998, a sixteen-year-old high-school student named Josiah Sutton and a friend were arrested by the Houston Police Department (HPD) for their involvement in the brutal kidnapping and rape of a local woman named Priscilla Stewart.¹ The woman had been driving in her car a few days after the incident and recognized the two young men as they were walking down the street. When she called the police to report their location, she stated that they were wearing the same hats as the rapists. Although Sutton and his friend bore almost no physical resemblance to Ms. Stewart’s earlier...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 213-244)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 245-258)
  15. Index
    (pp. 259-270)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 271-272)