More News on DNA in Forensics

We recently noted that DNA profiling has greater public approval in the UK than in America. The UK presently operates the largest DNA database in the world with over 5 million profiles. Nevertheless, that country has just taken a giant step in the opposite direction. New civil liberties legislation, dubbed “the freedom bill,” will require authorities to remove hundreds of thousands of unconvicted people from the database, following a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights that “the blanket retention of DNA from people arrested but never convicted of any offence [i]s unlawful.” There are 1.1 million people without convictions presently profiled in the database; however, some of these profiles will not be removed as a result of an exception for “unconvicted terror suspects who have been released.”

Here in the U.S., the Supreme Court will consider the post-conviction DNA testing landscape in the Texas case of Henry Skinner. Thousands of convicts are requesting new DNA testing in light of the increasing number of exonerations based on DNA evidence. Skinner was convicted 15 years ago of murdering his girlfriend and her two developmentally disabled adult sons. At the recommendation of his attorneys, he declined DNA testing for his trial. Texas courts said he doesn’t currently qualify under a state law that grants DNA testing to some convicts, and federal courts refused to overrule Texas. The last time the Supreme Court considered this issue, in 2009, a divided court decided to let Congress and the state legislatures make the rules. Therefore, rules vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction as to how requests for post-conviction DNA testing are handled. Perhaps this time the Supreme Court will decide to lay down some firmer ground rules.

Allison Williams Dobson

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