Streams

Underreported: DNA Databases, Crime & Civil Liberties

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The use of forensic DNA databanks by law enforcement has exploded since the mid 1990s. We’ll examine the implications widespread stockpiling of genetic information has for criminal investigations and civil liberties. We’ll speak with Tufts University professor Sheldon Krimsky and former ACLU science advisor Tania Simoncelli, co-authors of the book Genetic Justice: DNA Data Banks, Criminal Investigations, and Civil Liberties.

Guests:

Sheldon Krimsky and Tania Simoncelli
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Comments [5]

casual observer from NYCity

The claim that a non-match necessarily "exonerates" a suspect of a crime such as murder is pure hokum. DNA can show (to a very, very high probability) that a suspect was not the source of some DNA that was left on, for example, a weapon such as a knife. But such DNA evidence does not exclude the possibility that other material on the knife was left by the suspect and it does not exclude the possibility that a different weapon (another knife) was used to kill the victim. DNA evidence "excludes" a suspect only when and only if other facts -- often many other facts -- are taken as true. An analogous situation with fingerprint evidence is when a fingerprint found on the window that was allegedly the window through which the suspect entered does not match the suspect's fingerprints. For such evidence to "exclude" the suspect it must be reasonably clear that there were no other fingeprints on the window and that the culprit in fact entered through that window and not some other window (for example).

Dec. 16 2010 10:14 PM
casual observer

The claim that a non-match necessarily "exonerates" a suspect of a crime such as murder is pure hokum. DNA can show (to a very, very high probability) that a suspect was not the source of some DNA that was left on, for example, a weapon such as a knife. But such DNA evidence does not exclude the possibility that other material on the knife was left by the suspect and it does not exclude the possibility that a different weapon (another knife) was used to kill the victim. DNA evidence "excludes" a suspect only when and only if other facts -- often many other facts -- are taken as true. An analogous situation with fingerprint evidence is when a fingerprint found on the window that was allegedly the window through which the suspect entered does not match the suspect's fingerprints. For such evidence to "exclude" the suspect it must be reasonably clear that there were no other fingeprints on the window and that the culprit in fact entered through that window and not some other window (for example).

Dec. 16 2010 10:14 PM
casual observer

The claim that a non-match necessarily "exonerates" a suspect of a crime such as murder is pure hokum. DNA can show (to a very, very high probability) that a suspect was not the source of some DNA that was left on, for example, a weapon such as a knife. But such DNA evidence does not exclude the possibility that other material on the knife was left by the suspect and it does not exclude the possibility that a different weapon (another knife) was used to kill the victim. DNA evidence "excludes" a suspect only when and only if other facts -- often many other facts -- are taken as true. An analogous situation with fingerprint evidence is when a fingerprint found on the window that was allegedly the window through which the suspect entered does not match the suspect's fingerprints. For such evidence to "exclude" the suspect it must be reasonably clear that there were no other fingeprints on the window and that the culprit in fact entered through that window and not some other window (for example).

Dec. 16 2010 09:50 PM

My home was burglarized and the thieves left a wooden cane here. The police say there was DNA but not enough to get a comparison. Yet this show makes it sound a whole lot easier to get a profile.
In addition, the police swabbed me for “exclusion” DNA. Does this mean I’m now in the system? Not planning on committing any crimes but it makes me uncomfortable.

Dec. 16 2010 04:44 PM
David from Brooklyn

It appears that the lowering of standards and certification for law enforcement and their agents is the problem and not the DNA.

Dec. 16 2010 01:42 PM

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