To clear or to convict? The Role of Genomics in Criminal Justice

Cutter, Anthony Mark (2006) To clear or to convict? The Role of Genomics in Criminal Justice. Genomics, Society and Policy, 2 (1). pp. 1-15.

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Although the title ‘genomics and criminal justice’ opens a relatively wide field of inquiry, this paper is primarily concerned with the use of genomic technologies by the criminal justice service(s), with a particular focus on the use of DNA and DNA databases. The vehicle for this exploration will, for the most part, be the National DNA Database of England & Wales.

The above exchange between a Judge and a law enforcement official, though taken from fiction, highlights the two key issues raised by the use of DNA and DNA databases in the criminal justice setting that will be considered in this paper. Firstly, we see the portrayal of DNA as a powerful tool that will serve as the lynch pin of the investigator’s case; secondly, we see the Judge’s concern for the ‘privacy’ of the suspects. In this context, these two concepts – the utility of DNA and the privacy of the individual – are conflicting. These competing interests are mediated by a governance process of law and policy – represented in the above exchange by the need to satisfy the test of ‘probable cause’ before a warrant can be issued. By exploring the interaction between these conflicting notions of utility verses privacy, it is hoped that a theoretical framework of principles for governing the use of DNA by the criminal justice service can be extrapolated. Are concerns about privacy warranted, if the utility of the data is so strong?

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