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About DNA Forensics


DNA technologies have radically reshaped the role of forensics in police work. Even small amounts of blood, saliva, or other biological materials left at a crime scene can now lead to the identification or elimination of a suspect. Genetic evidence has been used both to convict perpetrators and to exonerate people who were wrongfully convicted on less reliable evidence, including scores of people on death row.

DNA typing is typically quite accurate when used to tell whether an unknown sample matches another sample that has already been identified. This is not to say that this process is without problems; simple human error, sample contamination, and misinterpretations have been known to skew results.

The development of forensic DNA databases--in which hundreds of thousands of profiles are stored with the intention of catching recidivists--has given rise to new sets of problems such as miscalculations of the statistical probability that an unknown sample coincidentally matches a stored profile. In some cases, what are touted as rare "one-in-a-million" odds of being a coincidental match are actually significantly more likely once other relevant factors (such as database size) are taken into consideration. Such information has, on occasion, not been revealed to juries.

Nevertheless, the compilation of DNA databases has been increasing dramatically. In many jurisdictions, both in the US and abroad (especially in the UK), they now include people who may have been arrested for but never convicted of a crime. This raises privacy issues in addition to issues of racial discrimination since minorities have disproportionately higher contact with police and are therefore overrepresented in these databases.


Troy Duster’s Garden of Plugged-In Scholarship, and How it Grewby Barry BergmanNewsCenterAugust 20th, 2014An overview of the CGS co-sponsored event to honor Troy Duster's landmark works on the racial implications of drug policies and genetic research, role as adviser and friend, and fierce activism.
Questions Raised Over DNA Evidence to Secure Murder Convictionsby Candice MarcusABCAugust 13th, 2014A High Court ruling that DNA evidence was not enough to convict a man of murder could have wider implications on DNA convictions across Australia.
In Search for Killer, DNA Sweep Exposes Intimate Family Secrets in Italyby Elisabetta PovoledoThe New York TimesJuly 26th, 2014In the absence of other evidence, investigators embarked on the country’s largest DNA dragnet, taking genetic samples from nearly 22,000 people.
Thousands of Scots Children Have Their DNA Stored on Police DatabaseSTVJuly 15th, 2014More than 35,000 DNA profiles of under-18s are stored on police computers. 251 of them from youngsters 13 and under, including two ten-year-olds.
Vermont High Court Decides Against State DNA Lawby Beth GarbitelliPortland Press HeraldJuly 12th, 2014Collection at arraignment violates a defendant’s right to privacy. “Your entire genome doesn’t become the property of the state merely because you’ve been charged with a crime,” a defense attorney said.
About That Creepy Biometric Database, FBI, We'd Like to Know a Bit Moreby J.D. TuccilleReasonJune 26th, 2014The FBI's facial recognition database, into which it wants to put 52 million of our mugs by the end of 2015, is only part of its larger Next Generation Identification program.
Forensic Science Isn’t Scienceby Mark Joseph SternSlateJune 11th, 2014Far from an infallible science, forensics is a decades-long experiment in which undertrained lab workers jettison the scientific method in favor of speedy results that fit prosecutors’ hunches.
CRG Led Forensic Genetics Policy Initiative Publishes Article in the Egyptian Journal of Forensic Scienceby JeegCouncil for Responsible GeneticsJune 9th, 2014Some safeguards are implemented at the national or regional level for DNA databases but there is an ongoing lack of global standards and a need for more societal engagement and debate.
How Does Bias Affect Forensics Experts?by Bettina ChangPacific StandardJune 5th, 2014Studies have shown that forensics experts (such as fingerprint and DNA analysts) can be swayed by a variety of factors, including cognitive bias, time pressure, and expectations.
The Genome's Big Data Problemby Joseph CoxMother BoardJune 4th, 2014Serious concerns around genetic data need to be handled before we all jump on the genome band wagon. How will the data be stored? Who will be able to access it? What security will be in place?
Genetics In Court Is a Very Messy Businessby Alexandra SifferlinTimeJune 4th, 2014Courts may soon face the challenge of determining whether genetics can be linked to criminal behavior.
DNA Bill Assaults our Liberties in R.I. by Steven Brown and Mary McElroyProvidence JournalMay 22nd, 2014The presumption of innocence lies at the heart of our system of criminal justice, but a bill now in the Rhode Island House of Representatives deeply undercuts that presumption.
Familial DNA is Debatable Procedureby Andy ThompsonPost-Crescent MediaMay 20th, 2014Wisconsin has joined a handful of states in allowing familial DNA testing — a powerful but debatable procedure — to identify suspects in murders and sexual assaults.
Weighing the Scales on Genetic Informationby Jessica CussinsBiopolitical TimesApril 15th, 2014More people are choosing not to know what’s in their genome and more people are sharing the complexities and challenges of knowing. How can their choices and experiences inform policy?
Human Rights Body Warns Over Mass DNA Screeningby Elaine EdwardsThe Irish TimesApril 11th, 2014A Government proposal which would allow the taking of DNA samples for “mass screening” of certain “classes” of individuals should be prohibited, Ireland's national human rights watchdog has said.
It's a Fair Cop: Police Academy Uses DNA Testing on Students by Julie PowerThe Sydney Morning HeraldApril 3rd, 2014For the first time, the New South Wales Police Force has used DNA testing to screen its newest crop of student police against its crime database.
Update on Controversial Police DNA Collection in the Statesby Pete ShanksBiopolitical TimesApril 3rd, 2014In California, the Court of Appeals confirmed that police may take DNA samples from anyone arrested for a felony, at least for now; many other states, but not all, do the same.
Discriminatory “DNA Sweeps”by Jessica CussinsBiopolitical TimesMarch 31st, 2014A DNA sweep of “all black and brown migrant workers” at farms in Canada has led to a complaint against the Ontario Provincial Police department alleging misconduct and racial profiling.
Mugshots Built From DNA Databy Sara ReardonNatureMarch 20th, 2014Researchers have developed a computer program that can create a crude three-dimensional model of a face from a DNA sample.
Appeals Court OKs California DNA Swabs of Felony ArresteesAssociated PressMarch 20th, 2014A federal appeals court on Thursday upheld California's law requiring people arrested for felonies to submit samples of their DNA to police.
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