Reason's Radley Balko supports the creation of a new federal agency, and it might actually be a good idea.
Orange County, which already has one of the nation's most aggressive programs for taking DNA samples from convicts, has quietly begun offering a deal to some people who have only been arrested: give a DNA sample and have your charges dropped.
The district attorney's office, which runs its own database, has started expanding its program by handling some cases "informally," Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas told the Board of Supervisors this week. In those cases, if a person who has been arrested agrees to give a DNA sample, "we would not even file" charges.
"There'd be no necessity for a guilty plea, and a dismissal, or anything like that," he said. "It's advantageous to the defense, and it's advantageous to us, because we're able to handle more cases with fewer resources."
Rackauckas launched the DNA database in January 2007 with $875,000 approved by the Board of Supervisors. It is one of a small number of databases maintained by local governments separate from the larger databases maintained by states and the FBI.
Critics call such local databases "rogues" because they are not subject to state and federal guidelines designed to prevent DNA profiles from being misused. The Orange County database is even more unusual because it is not run by an accredited crime lab.
[Orange County DA] Rackauckas' decision to expand DNA collection to some people who are merely arrested is an example of why critics are concerned about databases that exist outside the federal system, said UCLA Law School professor Jennifer Mnookin, an expert on the subject.
When DNA collection was established, the state and federal government created limits, and "there was debate and public discussion, to some extent, of when it's appropriate to do this," Mnookin said. "So I'm quite troubled by these so-called rogue databases, where prosecutors are claiming for themselves the power to decide when we ought to be keeping biological samples for people.
"I don't think it should be up to individual prosecutors without broader legislative oversight," she said.
DNA Evidence Can Easily Be Faked
Nucleix, Ltd., a life science company specializing in forensic DNA analysis, announced that its researchers have proven that DNA evidence found at crime scenes can easily be falsified using basic equipment, know-how and access to DNA or a DNA database.
Recognizing the need to safeguard the accuracy and credibility of DNA samples in the field of forensics, Nucleix scientists have developed a novel assay termed "DNA authentication" for combating this form of "biological identity theft" by distinguishing between in-vivo (real) and in-vitro (fake) DNA. These findings and new technology have also been published online in the journal, Forensic Science International: Genetics.
In their paper Nucleix scientists demonstrate that while DNA fingerprinting is considered one of the leading forensic tools in many criminal investigations, DNA evidence can easily be falsified and planted at crime scenes prior to collection by law enforcement officers.
Use of DNA fingerprinting as evidence in criminal proceedings relies on the assumption that the DNA sample is genuine. However, standard molecular biology techniques, such as PCR, molecular cloning and more recently available whole genome amplification, enable anyone with basic equipment and limited know-how to synthesize unlimited amounts of in-vitro DNA with any desired profile. Such fake DNA can easily be incorporated into genuine human tissues (e.g., blood, saliva) or applied to surfaces and planted at crime scenes.
Nucleix's research demonstrates that current forensic procedures cannot distinguish between real and fake DNA evidence. Moreover, Nucleix showed that in vitro synthesized DNA samples that were profiled by a leading independent forensic laboratory were indistinguishable from in vivo-generated or real DNA.
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