The use of DNA testing for forensic investigations


After the use of fingerprints, the use of DNA testing for forensic investigations can be considered the most important invention in the area of criminal investigations. The word "DNA" stands for deoxyribonucleic acid. DNA utilizes biological components like skin, hair, blood, and bodily fluids to identify people. A distinctive genetic code found in DNA is used to distinguish individuals from one another.

Advancements in DNA Testing

DNA testing is now used to convict criminals who would otherwise be allowed to roam the streets. Over time, it has also aided in the acquittal of falsely charged and detained people. Alec Jeffrey, a geneticist at the University of Leicester, found that DNA taken from cells can aid in accurately identifying people and their kinship. The remarkable discovery was actually by accident as Alec was trying to find out how illnesses became inherited and passed down in families (Mapes et al., 2015). The police approached him and requested him to help them confirm if a suspect who had confessed to the rape and murder of two girls was telling the truth.

The Richard Buckland Case

The confession came from 17-year-old Richard Buckland. He appeared to know some intimate details of the crime that police had not revealed to the public. The police were however not very sure of his confession because he had learning difficulties. He would also take the police in cycles, admitting the crime repeatedly and later on withdrawing the admission. The results confirmed that the same man raped. However, the crime was not committed by the suspect in question. The results led to a long search for the real culprit. Male inhabitants around the area were asked to donate blood samples to help in identifying a new suspect for the crimes. Eventually, Pitchfork was arrested and convicted of the crime. The court sentenced him to life imprisonment with a minimum sentence of 30 years.

Widespread Use of DNA Testing

The success of DNA in convicting the suspect was a significant milestone for the justice system all over the world. Immediately, police forces around the world took notice of the advanced method of identification. DNA profiling became routinely incorporated into the ordinary police work. More officers were offered training to be forensic scientists and technicians. In November 1987, Tommy Lee from Orange County was convicted of rape after semen traces from a victim were matched to DNA from his blood (Doleac, 2017). In a case State v. Woodall, the West Virginia Supreme Court became the first state high court to give a ruling on the admissibility of DNA evidence. The defendant’s earlier conviction of kidnapping, rape, and robbery of two women was upheld by the court. Woodall was later released from prison when further DNA testing showed that he was innocent of the crimes. Another significant trial concerning DNA was the Spencer v. Commonwealth. Timothy Wilson Spencer was being tried for multiple murders. DNA admission is what led to a guilty verdict. His DNA was matched to that of semen found in several victims. It was the first time in history where DNA admission led to death penalty sentencing (Doleac, 2017).

Benefits of DNA Testing

Over the last 30 years, DNA testing has been conducted on more than 50 million people in the world during criminal investigations. It has helped in convicting millions of criminals. In other instances, it has aided in exonerating suspects that appeared guilty due to circumstantial evidence but were innocent. In other cases, DNA testing has helped in overturning miscarriages of justice. Innocent people who are imprisoned for crimes they did not commit get a chance to prove their innocence. An example is the case of Mr. McCollum who was released from prison after DNA evidence confirmed that he was indeed innocent of the rape and murder of a girl in 1983. He was arrested at the age of 19 and convicted of the crime a year later. He was released at 50 years of age (Mapes et al., 2015). The imprisonment led to a waste of the suspect’s prime years of his life. Prompt DNA testing would have helped to secure justice and freedom for the wrongly suspected individual. Scott Fappiano was also released from prison in 2006 after spending 20 years in prison for the wrongful conviction for the rape of a girl. More than 240 similar incidents of the innocent being exonerated have been witnessed in more than 33 states since DNA testing started being used by prosecutors.

Evolution of DNA Testing

In the 1980s and the early 1990s DNA sweeps were relied upon to get DNA samples. The practice has however dwindled in popularity since then. Instead, many countries have built up DNA databases. In 1995, the first DNA database was set up in the UK and took samples from 5.1 million people (Mapes et al., 2015). DNA sweeping has also been made less relevant by the ease with which one can now collect DNA from a suspect. Relatives of criminal suspects are even used to match suspect’s DNA to that obtained from the crime scene.

Wide Applications of DNA Testing

The use of DNA analysis has become more widespread and commonly used. The rise in popularity accrues from its accuracy in identification purposes and the affordability. Paternity issues marred by violence against couples can now easily get solved through paternity tests that determine the birth parents and siblings. DNA testing also helps in the identification of human remains that facilitate the solving of missing person cases after suspected foul play. DNA facilitates the identification of people in situations where they can no longer be physically recognized. Nicholas II and his family were identified through DNA testing done on their skeletal remains. The family had been killed in 1918 during the Russian civil war and buried in Moscow at a burial pit in Yekaterinburg (Doleac, 2017). The invention of DNA testing was, therefore, an excellent breakthrough for criminal investigation and the justice system as a whole.


Doleac, J. L. (2017). The effects of DNA databases on crime. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 9(1), 165-201.

Mapes, A. A., Kloosterman, A. D., & Poot, C. J. (2015). DNA in the criminal justice system: the DNA success story in perspective. Journal of forensic sciences, 60(4), 851-856.

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