Northumbria University Centre for Forensic Science

Year: 2004

Wonderment and Dread: Representations of DNA in Ethical Disputes about Forensic DNA Databases

R. Williams & P. Johnson. New Genetics and Society, 23(2), pp. 205-223. (2004).

Abstract

The national DNA Database of England & Wales is the largest forensic DNA database in the world. Since 1995 it has quickly developed to hold the genetic profiles of over two million people. This collection of tissue samples, taken without consent from a sizeable collection of the population, has engendered a number of ethical commentaries on its legitimacy as a proportionate response to crime. This paper examines the ways in which the ethical discourses, which surround the uses of the National DNA Database, drew upon and deployed a number of distinct representations of DNA. It is argued that key ideas about DNA have become central to everyday assertions about the benefits and dangers of this forensic technology.

Tags: , Robin Williams

Post-Conviction DNA Testing: The UK’s First Exoneration Case?

P. Johnson & R. Williams. Science and Justice, 4(2), pp. 77-82. (2004).

Abstract

The routine incorporation of forensic DNA profiling into the criminal justice systems of the United Kingdom has been widely promoted as a device for improving the quality of investigative and prosecutorial processes. From its first uses in the 1980s, in cases of serious crime, to the now daily collection, analysis and comparison of genetic samples in the National DNA Database, DNA profiling has become a standard instrument of policing and a powerful evidential resource for prosecutors. However, the use of post-conviction DNA testing has, until recently, been uncommon in the United Kingdom. This paper explores the first case, in England, of the contribution of DNA profiling to a successful appeal against conviction by an imprisoned offender. Analysis of the details of this case is used to emphasise the ways in which novel forms of scientific evidence remain subject to traditional and heterogeneous tests of relevance and credibility.

Tags: , Robin Williams

Genetic Information and Crime Investigation. Social, ethical and public policy aspects of the establishment, expansion and police use of the National DNA Database

R. Williams, P. Johnson & P. Martin. School of Applied Social Sciences. Durham, Durham University. (2004).

Abstract

The recent incorporation of forensic DNA identification technology into the criminal justice systems of a growing number of countries has been fast and far reaching. In developing and using DNA profiling for forensic purposes many criminal jurisdictions across the world have followed a common trajectory: from its case-by-case use to support the investigation and prosecution of a small number of homicides and sexual assaults, to the recovery of biological samples and the comparison of DNA profiles as an extensive and routine practice in the investigation of a wide range of crimes including property and auto crime. Essential to this development has been the introduction and expansion of DNA databases or ‘registers’ which contain collections of genetic profiles derived from biological samples lawfully collected from widening categories of individuals. The National DNA Database (NDNAD) of England & Wales is one such database. This report provides an account of the NDNAD and its uses that we hope will stimulate discussion and debate among and across a range of stakeholders – including forensic scientists, crime scene personnel, police officers, policy makers, and members of the legal profession – who contribute to making the NDNAD ‘work’ and among other interested parties – including human rights groups, academics, and bio-ethicists – who respond to, and sometimes influence, understandings and applications of this forensic instrument. But we also hope to promote, in supplying a comprehensive overview of the historical development, current use, and potential changes in DNA profiling and databasing in England & Wales, an understanding of the NDNAD beyond those with a ‘hands on’ interest in its use.

Tags: , Robin Williams

Circuits of Surveillance

R. Williams & P. Johnson. Surveillance and Society, 2(1), pp. 1-14. (2004).

Abstract

This paper examines the increasing police use of DNA profiling and databasing as a developing instrumentality of modern state surveillance. It briefly notes previously published work on a variety of surveillance technologies and their role in the governance of social action and social order. It then argues that there are important differences amongst the ways in which several such technologies construct and use identificatory artefacts, their orientations to human subjectivity, and their role in the governmentality of citizens and others. The paper then describes the novel and powerful form of bio-surveillance offered by DNA profiling and illustrates this by reference to an ongoing empirical study of the police uses of the UK National DNA Database for the investigation of crime. It is argued that DNA profiling and databasing enable the construction of a ‘closed circuit’ of surveillance of a defined population.

Tags: , Robin Williams

An Intelligence led Investigation using Trace Evidence

R. Palmer. “An Intelligence led Investigation using Trace Evidence” in M. Houck (Ed.), Trace Evidence Analysis, Elsevier Academic Press. (2004).

Tags: , Ray Palmer

The population of coloured fibres in head hair

R. Palmer & S. Oliver. Science & Justice, 44(2), pp. 83-8. (2004).

Abstract

In 2002 a population study of textile fibres in human hair was carried out using 26 volunteers in Cambridgeshire, UK. Over 12,000 fibres were recovered from a variety of hair lengths using low adhesive tape and classified according to colour, generic type and fibre length. The results of the study showed that the most common fibre colours were black/grey (48%), blue (29.1%) and red (12.7%), the least common being green, orange/brown and yellow which each accounted for less than 5% of the total. Natural fibres (mainly cotton) were predominant (72.3%) and man-made fibres were considerably less frequent. When colour and generic type were classified together, the most common combinations were black and blue cottons. The least common were the man-made fibre/colour combinations with the most frequent of these accounting for less than 7% of the sample. Fibre loads carried by long hair were found to be significantly less than that carried by short hair. The results of this study are in accordance with previous fibre population studies using other types of recipient surfaces and are likely to be influenced by factors such as seasonal and geographical variation.

Tags: , Ray Palmer

Forensic web watch: DNA in Forensic Science

V.L. Bowyer, E.M.A. Graham & G.N. Rutty. Journal of Clinical Forensic Medicine, 11, pp. 271-273. (2004).

Abstract

In 1923, within the Manual of Police technique, Edmond Locard published what is commonly known as the Doctrine of Exchange; a series of rules related to the exchange of trace evidence between the victim and offender. Although at the time of publication these rules principally applied to trace evidence related to print (for exchange finger print or shoeprint), fibre and blood, today one can add the very substance that defines each human being — DNA. Since th first use of DNA evidence to help identify an offender in the Pitchfork Murders of 1986, the use of DNA within forensic science has developed from its humble days within a single experimental laboratory at the University of Leicester to a multi-million pound industry. It thus seams fitting that this forensic web watch should originate from the very University where the use of DNA in forensic science was conceived, drawing the readers attention to a number of sites which can be used as an introduction to the concept of the use of DNA in forensic science today.

Tags: , Eleanor Graham

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