DNA Database

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DNA Database

The collection of DNA from citizens could be beneficial, but there could also be issues with it. Maintaining the DNA of prison inmates stored in the database has led to identifying DNA left at crime scenes. The database has also been responsible for exonerations of those who have been wrongly accused. Innocent lives have been saved with the use of DNA. There are privacy concerns with the collection of DNA from citizens. Some view it as a violation to their privacy rights.

In 1990 Virginia enacted a law and began collecting DNA samples from every criminal convicted of a felony. In 1992 the United States Court of Appeals determined that keeping the DNA in a database did not violate the criminals’ constitutional rights. A few years later in 1996 Virginia expanded the law to include the collection of DNA from juveniles of at least 14 years of age. Any juvenile who would have been convicted of a felony if they had been tried as an adult had to submit a DNA sample. Since the collection of DNA in 1989, more than 150,000 samples have been collected and stored in the database. By 1998 it was reported by Virginia’s Division of Forensic Sciences that 26 different samples were connected to evidence from crime scenes in Virginia (Michelle Hibbert, n.d.).

Keeping a database of DNA has saved innocent lives. DNA evidence has resulted in 316 exonerations. Of the 316 people exonerated, 18 of them had served time on death row (Innocence Project, 2014) In 1984 Kirk Noble Bloodsworth was on death row for the rape and murder of a 9 year old girl named Dawn Hamilton. The evidence that led to the conviction was 5 witnesses who claimed Bloodsworth was either with the victim or near the scene of the crime. In 2003, a forensics biologist was examining the evidence from this case. The examiner came across a bed sheet that had stains on it and had not been analyzed. The national DNA database was used to identify whose DNA was left on the sheet. The actual murderer and rapist was arrested and Bloodsworth was set free. Bloodsworth was awarded the sum of $300,000 by the state of Maryland for lost income (Bluhm Legal Clinic, n.d.).

The first exoneration from DNA was on August 14th, 1989. Ten years prior, 22 year old Gary Dotson was convicted of raping 16 year old Cathleen Crowell. Crowell told officers that a car with 3 men abducted her. After being thrown into the car one of the men tore her clothes off, raped her, and used a broken beer bottle to scratch several letters on her stomach. Crowell had fabricated the whole story and the marks on her body from the supposed rapist were actually self-inflicted. Her reasoning was that she was afraid that she would become pregnant from consensual sex she had with her boyfriend and she wanted a conceivable explanation to give her parents. Crowell described her imaginary rapist to police sketch artists and then was given a mug book. She identified a photo of Dotson as the rapist. Dotson was sentenced 25 to 50 years for rape and 25 to 50 years for aggravated kidnapping. After spending 10 years in prison Dotson was released. Crowell had come forward about fabricating the rape story and a DNA test proved that Dotson’s DNA did not match the DNA found on Crowell’s underwear (Bluhm Legal Clinic, n.d.).

The use of DNA with criminals has been beneficial, but will a database with everyone’s DNA be as beneficial? A popular argument against the collection of DNA from individuals is the matter of an individual’s privacy. The procedure of taking DNA samples is less invasive than some common procedures such as the procedure of taking blood. A DNA sample can be collected by simply collecting a strand of hair or using a cotton swab to collect a sample from the inside cheek of an individual (Roman-Santos, 2011).

Those who are opposed to the collection of DNA argue that the samples can become contaminated by heat, sunlight, and bacteria. The purpose of a DNA database is to assist in criminal investigations, not to replace the traditional investigation. The DNA is to be used to identify potential suspects who can then be further investigated rather than a DNA match automatically making them guilty. It is a possibility that after a potential suspect is identified from a DNA match other evidence that proves their innocence may be overlooked (Roman-Santos, 2011).

People opposed to the database believe that it violates citizen’s constitutional rights. The rights suspected of being violated are the Fourth Amendment, the Fifth Amendment, and the Eighth Amendment. Several courts have determined that these rights are not violated by maintaining a DNA database on the average citizen. The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable search and seizure. The Fifth Amendment is the right that protects against self-incrimination. The Eighth Amendment is the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. The courts also determined that public safety outweighs the perceived intrusion of taking a saliva sample. Providing a sample of one’s DNA is not equivalent to providing testimony (Roman-Santos, 2011).

Some concerns with storing all individuals’ DNA are the cost and trust. The act of collecting the DNA of every individual would be extremely costly and time consuming. Cooperation from everyone is not likely and compliance may involve additional costs. It is a possibility that corrupt police or other officials could abuse the DNA information. It can be abused by allowing access to unauthorized personnel. There is potential for evidence of a crime scene to be manipulated. Individuals could be framed and have crimes pinned on them that they did not commit. Evidence from a crime scene could be overlooked or ignored because of there being a DNA match. There are a number of U.S. citizens that already do not trust the government so those people are not going to trust the government to keep samples of their DNA in a database.

Over the years the criminal DNA database has resulted in identifying suspects and locking up guilty criminals. Individuals who have been wrongly accused have been set free. A national DNA database could be just as beneficial. It could help solve crimes faster. It could also have the same benefits as the criminal database. However, citizens are concerned with it being an invasion of their privacy. They are also concerned with the misuse of their information and many individuals do not trust the government so they do not want them to have their DNA. There is also the concern of cost. There are valid arguments on both views; however the pros far outweigh the cons of having a national DNA database.

References

Hibbert, M. (n.d.). State and federal DNA database laws examined. Retrieved from

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/case/revolution/databases.html.

Roman-Santos, C. (2011). Concerns associated with expanding DNA databases. Retrieved from

http://hstlj.org/articles/concerns-associated-with-expanding-dna-databases/.

Innocence Project. (2014). DNA exonerations nationwide. Retrieved from

http://www.innocenceproject.org/Content/DNA_Exonerations_Nationwide.php.

Bluhm Legal Clinic. (n.d.). First DNA death row exoneration. Retrieved from

http://www.law.northwestern.edu/legalclinic/wrongfulconvictions/exonerations/md/kirk-bloodsworth.html.

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