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When is DNA Testing Mandatory?

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DNA testing technology has changed the way crimes are solved in America. Since its advent, DNA evidence has exonerated the wrongly accused, helped track down culprits for crimes long passed and helped put countless thousands of guilty people in prison. While DNA fingerprints are rapidly becoming definitive proof in felony crimes, the reliability of the testing procedures and the scientific techniques used have proven to provide very few false positives or false negatives. The general belief, as of 2009, is that DNA testing is reliable, has had a positive impact within the legal field and is here to stay.

Areas of Law

Family and criminal law have both benefited from the scientific advances made in this field and advances continue to be made to improve the accuracy and reliability each year. As of 2009, in most cases, the accuracy and reliability of DNA tests are in the 99.99% region, depending on the particular service used to perform the testing.

When is DNA Testing Required

While most family law cases do not require DNA testing for proof of paternity, it is becoming more commonplace than the blood tests that have long been the standard, due to the greater degree of accuracy. While a blood test will state whether it is possible that a particular man could have been the father of a child, DNA testing will conclusively show whether a particular man was or was not the father of the child in question.

The comparison of the DNA signature of the child and the assumed father will indicate with 99% accuracy whether any of the genetic information of the child came from the father. As a result, mandatory testing can and is ordered by the court in a growing number of paternity suits. Once the order has been made by the court, samples must be provided for DNA testing of the child, father and mother.

DNA and Criminal Law

The most important arena for mandatory DNA testing occurs in the criminal justice system. DNA testing can be especially useful in cases of rape and murder. The DNA evidence left at the scene of the crime in the case of rape can be matched with the DNA of a suspect to prove guilt or innocence. The sperm and hairs a rapist leaves behind can often be the only link between the suspect and the rape. Murderers, especially in the case of violent crimes, also may leave samples at the scene that can be run for a DNA signature. Blood, hair, skin and even cells left behind with a fingerprint can be used to find the murderer and to prove his guilt.

While DNA testing can provide strong, at times condemning, evidence as to the innocence or guilt of a suspect, there are serious questions about whether a court mandated DNA test is a violation of a suspect's civil rights. Many courts have been struggling with this situation for the past decade, with the public weighing in as well. For example, some people believe requiring a sample of blood or saliva is a violation of constitutional privacy rights. There is even a fear that DNA information from a suspect who is proven innocent could be filed away and preserved, thus compounding the privacy violation.

As of 2009, New Jersey has instituted mandatory DNA testing for all felons and more states are following suit. Some states are expanding the mandated testing requirements to include those found guilty of a misdemeanor. Law enforcement agencies have even advocated that the requirement include those that have been arrested on any charge and those who are simply taken in as a suspects. Law enforcement agencies speaking out in favor of required DNA collection believe it is no different than taking a person’s fingerprints. The information collected from felons and criminals under these programs is stored in a database that is accessible not only to state officials but also to the FBI.

DNA Testing of the Innocent

Mandated DNA testing is not limited to felons or criminal suspects. All men and women serving in the Armed Forces are currently required to submit a blood sample for DNA matching at a later date. While this is valiant in its goals of identifying fallen bodies on a battlefield, the question of a privacy violation still looms for opponents of DNA testing.

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