DNA testing of criminals improves crime-fighting

Sampling the DNA of convicted criminals and comparing it to crime scene DNA samples is the most significant innovation in crime-fighting since the science of fingerprinting was developed more than a century ago. Yet USA state legislatures are increasingly circumscribing its use.

  • All states test the DNA of sex offenders and 37 collect the DNA of convicted murderers - but only 28 allow it in cases of assault and battery, 25 in cases of felony attempts, 24 in cases involving juveniles, 22 in kidnappings, 19 in robberies and 18 in burglary cases.

  • Seven states test all felons - including white-collar criminals, credit-card cheats and other non-violent offenders - on the theory that violent offenders often start out committing lesser crimes.

  • But in the past six months, 11 legislatures rejected or declined to act on bills designed to expand the number of offenders from whom DNA is drawn, while six states passed such bills.

  • States have taken more than 750,000 DNA samples since 1989.

    Civil liberties groups are prominent opponents of expanded testing, claiming concerns over personal privacy.

    However, since 1992, 70 prisoners - including eight on death row - have been released after DNA tests cast doubt on their convictions. More than 1,300 prosecutions have been aided when DNA profiles on state databases were matched via computer with suspects or evidence from crime scenes, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

    Source: NCPA Policy Digest / Richard Willing, "As Police Rely More on DNA, States Take a Closer Look," USA Today, June 6, 2000.

    For text http://www.usatoday.com/news/acovtue.htm

    For more on Technology And Crime: http://www.ncpa.org/pi/crime/crime8.html

    RSA Note:
    South Africa lacks the variety of approaches adopted by the different American States in their efforts to find sound and just solutions to difficult issues such as DNA testing of suspects. Through trial and error the various jurisdictions eventually discover better approaches and adopt similar solutions. Countries with centralised power are inclined to act in a much more autocratic fashion and impose substantial costs on citizens in finding answers to vexing problems.

    Eustace Davie,FMF.
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