5 reasons why a criminologist should know how to deal with DNA

DNA evidence plays an increasingly important role in the judicial field, both civil and criminal, and in investigations.  There are countless cases in which the verdict depends entirely on the outcome of examinations of genetic material. This particular type of evidence can, for instance, prove who committed a crime, who was present at a specific location, or who is the parent of a child. 

Therefore, it is easy to deduce that anyone who wants to work in forensic science needs to be familiar with genetics and the functioning of DNA technologies.  

However, practitioners have little knowledge of this subject. 

The main mistake made by criminologists, investigators, and lawyers is to ‘trust’ the outcome of genetic material tests without equipping themselves with the necessary knowledge to verify that these outcomes correspond to the truth. 

Indeed, while genetic technologies support criminal investigations and are also seen as having great potential to produce evidence for use in the courts, the infallibility associated with genetic technologies conceals several threats. 

Let us, therefore, look at 5 reasons why a criminologist or a forensic psycologist should know how to deal with DNA evidence. 

1) A matter of logic 

If DNA plays such an important role in forensic science, is it logical that criminologists, investigators, and lawyers have no knowledge of this subject? Very often, criminologists and investigators and those working in courtrooms, simply trust the technology. The ‘second opinion’ is often used, but is it sufficient? The ability to question or prove the evidence is a fundamental skill for those who want to succeed in the investigative and judicial field.  

From a professional point of view, those who master this knowledge have several advantages, such as: 

  • Studying and supervising technical reports with a critical eye 
  • Analyzing court and criminal case files in order to identify more investigative leads  
  • Conducting defensive investigations in cooperation with lawyers

2) Genetic technologies are not infallible 

DNA profiling is undoubtedly one of the most significant discoveries in forensic science since the development of fingerprint recognition technology. That does not mean that it is infallible. Few people are aware that the effectiveness of genetic technologies can be strongly influenced by countless factors that can lead to entirely wrong outcomes.

Knowing what these factors are and the correct way to test genetic material is paramount for those seeking the truth. 

Read more: Storing data in the genome of bacteria

3) Verifying evidence collection 

One of the main reasons DNA evidence can ‘lie’ is mistakes made during evidence collection. Errors that lead to contamination. 

Investigators collect items that may have been touched or worn by people involved in a crime.  

As extremely small samples of genetic material can be used as evidence, greater attention to contamination issues is required when identifying, collecting, and storing genetic material. The ability to check whether evidence has been collected correctly is, therefore, a very important tool in the hands of lawyers, criminologists, and private investigators. 

Forensic experts takes a sample of blood, gun and shells from the crime scene

4) DNA bizarreness 

It is a common belief that DNA is a kind of code etched in stone, in which is written who we are, who we will become, and, in some ways, even our destiny. That’s far from the truth. 

Few people are aware that DNA can change or mutate for various reasons. Some people, so-called chimeras, even have two types of DNA. Moreover, the bizarre things about genetics are as varied as the nuances of nature. Believe it or not, a DNA test may not correctly attribute the paternity of a child, just as the DNA of sperm found on the clothes of a raped woman may not match that of the rapist. 

For the same reason, DNA evidence may say that the murderer was never at the scene of the murder. 

Learn more: Human gene and human genome. A conversation starter

5) Technological threats 

As with other trends, genetic editing or, more generally, genetic manipulation technologies experience hype in the media and then fall into obscurity. Although they have not been mainstream recently, these technologies have seen an incredible evolution, opening up a whole new universe of opportunities. But behind every opportunity lies a threat.

For the justice system, this essentially means two things: 

  • The first is that new technologies may lead to the emergence of new crimes, and the law may also take a long time to update, thus creating legislative and regulatory holes. 
  • The second is that genetic material manipulation is a technology that has become more effective and more accessible over time. 

Forensic science needs to update and include all the necessary skills to understand whether or not evidence has been manipulated. Today, some technologies allow the genome (human or animal) to be modified easily even by non-experts.

To understand the scope of this statement, today, you can buy genetic manipulation kits on Amazon (https://www.amazon.in/DIY-Bacterial-Genome-Engineering-CRISPR/dp/B071ZXW1TW) for a few dollars.  

Abstract luminous DNA molecule. Genetic and gene manipulation concept. Cut of replacing part of a DNA molecule. Medicine. Innovative in science. Medical science and biotechnology.

What will happen tomorrow? 

If you want to master this subject to boost your career, check out the curriculum for the School of Disruption’s DNA Manipulation for Criminologists course

The course is designed for those starting from scratch and will take you into the field that plays the most important (and critical) role in the justice and investigation system. 

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