Use of DNA evidence in criminal justice systems. 

ABSTRACT

Advances in science and technology have made forensic science a vital part of the justice system. DNA evidence has played a vital part in the criminal justice system in recent years. In many cold cases, there was a lack of traditional evidence. DNA evidence helps in criminal investigations and establishes a connection between the victim and the perpetrator. Therefore, DNA evidence plays a vital role in protecting the rights of victims and solving serious crimes such as murder, rape and sexual assault. DNA evidence also helps in the acquittal of accused persons in criminal cases and in identifying victims in cases where the body has been severally damaged.

But the success of DNA in criminal trials isn’t just about headlines. It’s also about capturing the imagination of the public. Jurors are now looking for DNA to be used in more cases, even in cases where other evidence may be better suited to the investigation.

KEYWORDS

DNA, Code of criminal procedure, Forensic science, Indian evidence act, Accused person, Investigation.

INTRODUCTION

The development of DNA analysis in the criminal justice process began in the mid-1980s. Since then, advances in DNA analysis techniques in crime labs have made it possible to analyze even small amounts of blood or saliva, sperm, skin cells, or any other biological material. This evidence can be used to generate new leads in the investigation, connect a suspect or victim to the scene of a crime, or prove or dispute an alternative version of the facts.

Forensic DNA analysis has also become a critical part of the process of getting someone out of prison who has been wrongly convicted.

In the past, courts relied on traditional forms of evidence, collected from the scene of the crime or produced before the court. These types of evidence are connected to the accused persons and they are convicted, after further investigation. In the majority of cases, this method has been successful. However, it has also resulted in the conviction of innocent people. In some cases, the accused’s alibi is against him/her and some criminals are even acquitted due to lack of evidence. Therefore, an effective system is needed to ensure that the real perpetrators of the crime are punished for it and to protect the society from harm.

“DNA plays a critical role and provides scientific evidence beyond reasonable doubt in several criminal investigations, i.e., sexual assault, child abuse, murder, and civil cases, e.g., paternity or maternity disputes. DNA has also played a vital role in the investigation of blind and cold cases.”

Research Methodology 

This paper is descriptive in nature and the data is derived from secondary sources for the in-depth analysis of DNA Evidence used in criminal justice in India. Secondary sources include newspapers, journals and websites.

REVIEW OF LITERATURE

“The use of DNA to trace crime suspects has been a prominent improvement in policing, and When DNA databases are efficiently put to use, it overwhelmingly aids the conviction of culprits and exoneration of the innocent.”

More recently, the study was broadened to include other stains induced by various species of files after ingestion of sperm, saliva, faeces, and urine. More than 94% of the fly artifacts responded positively to anti-md3. “In previous years, several techniques have been used to differentiate fly artifacts from human bloodstains. Some authors initially proposed morphological approaches, resulting in general rules.”

The evidence admissibility also depends on how it is collected, packaged and transmitted (keeping the chain of custody intact) along with proper laboratory procedures. Credibility of an expert’s opinion also depends on several factors. Experience and qualifications of the expert, lab accreditation and quality control and management procedures are essential to avoid the accusations of ‘trying to tamper with the evidence.’ In such a situation, the accused may be given the benefit of doubt due to poor scientific /analytical procedures.

METHOD

DNA EVIDENCE 

DNA Evidence is one of the most important pieces of evidence in criminal investigations. DNA can be extracted from any body cell that is accidentally left behind at the scene of a crime. Once inspected, forensic experts must analyze and collect the evidence, separate the DNA and perform DNA profiling analysis to determine who committed the crime. DNA evidence is extremely accurate and can be used to implicate an accused in the crime or to prove the innocence of a convicted person who may then be acquitted.

However, in some cases, like sexual assault, examining the DNA residing in sex determining chromosomes can be very useful in the analysis. For example, if the suspect in the sexual assault case is male (who has Y-chromosomes) and the victim in the case is female (who has X-chromosomes), performing an analysis of STR patterns in cells that have Y-strain (called Y-STR) will exclude the cells that belong to the female from the analysis.

Y-chromosomes are passed down through the paternal line. For example, a brother, father and a male child will all show the same Y chromosome.

Mitochondrial (mtDNA) DNA is inherited from your biological mother. Therefore, all maternally related individuals have the same maternally inherited mtDNA (there is a small chance that mtDNA may be altered from parent to progeny).

Because mtDNA is much more abundant than nuclear DNA, and it does not degrade as rapidly as autosomalDNA, mtDNA can be used to identify a missing person or unidentified remains.

“Wherein it was observed that the Indian law leans towards legitimacy and that a direction for DNA test should be passed only after balancing the interests of the parties, including the rights of the child, and if such a test is eminently needed. That in the present case, the respondent had failed to demonstrate that the direction for conducting DNA test could not have been avoided, and therefore, the direction to conduct the same was erroneous.”

DNA was first discovered by “Swiss biologist Friedrich Miescher” in the early 19th century. However, it wasn’t until 1953 that British biologist “James Watson and his colleague Francis Crick” proved that DNA exists in three-dimensional form as a double helix. After that, the pace of DNA research and applications quickened. By the 1980’s, laboratories began to use DNA to establish paternity in contentious cases.

DNA forensics in the Indian Legal System 

“If a person is apprehended on a charge of such an offence and is alleged to have committed the offence in circumstances where there are reasonable grounds to believe that an examination of the arrested person will give evidence of the commission of the offence, it is lawful for a medical practitioner, acting on a request from a police officer no lower than the rank of Sub-inspector and acting in good faith and under the direction of a police officer, to carry out such an examination on the arrested person as is reasonably necessary to establish the facts which may give evidence of the offence, and to use reasonable force to carry out the examination. If the person of a woman is to be examined pursuant to this Section, the examination must be carried out only by or under the direct supervision of a registered medical practitioner.”.

“The trial Court having observed that while the contention of accused was that he had nothing to do with the offence and the complainant’s case was that her son was born through accused, it was apposite to direct the accused to undergo DNA examination to decide the paternity of 18 months old baby of the defacto complainant, allowed the petition.”

So, by virtue of the amendment, the term ‘examination’ imbibes in itself DNA profiling also among other tests. Since Section 53 appears in the Chapter-V of C.D.C. under the heading “Arrest of Persons” and since phraseology such as “when a person is arrested on a charge of committing an offence”, “examination of his person will afford evidence as to the commission of an offence” etc., is employed, one can understand that the examination of such arrested person takes place during the course of investigation

 “A matrimonial court has the power to direct a person to undergo medical tests and such a direction would not amount to a violation of the personal liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.”

Section 112 of Evidence act stated that birth during marriage, proof of legitimacy. – 

The fact that a person is born during the course of a legitimate marriage between his mother and another man or within 200 days after the dissolution of the marriage while his mother is unmarried, is proof of legitimacy unless it can be proven that the parties did not have access to each other during the period in which he could have been born.

“The process to be followed by Courts in directing DNA tests, while at the same time preserving the presumption under Section 112 of the Evidence Act. That a similar approach must be permitted to be adopted in the present case.”

Limitation of DNA evidence

DNA Evidence is only used to determine whether the accused was present at the time of the crime or not and does not prove the man’s culpability in the crime. However, it does aid in the investigation by eliminating potential suspects especially with advances in the commission of crimes.

In addition, DNA data obtained from low quality or damaged samples due to mishandling or exposure to biological agents is often contaminated and cannot provide accurate results. This is an important part of DNA profiling because the samples must be carefully preserved without being contaminated from the crime scene.

DNA evidence cannot be used exclusively for the conviction of the accused as it may be accidentally left behind prior to the duration of the crime. Therefore, it is necessary to corroborate it with already existing traditional evidence to prove that the accused did not participate in the commission of the crime. Another hurdle for DNA Evidence is bone marrow transplantation as it is likely to show variation in the person being examined.

Dealing with Privacy and Self-incrimination.

The Right against Self-incrimination and the Right of Life and Personal Liberty are listed as fundamental rights in the Constitution of India (CoI). Therefore, the procedures must be just, fair and equitable. Article 14 of COI states that the procedures must ensure equality before the law and that they must not discriminate or be arbitrary.

The Indian law does not permit forced medical examination of the rape victim. In accordance with Section 164A, 1973, the rape victim can only be medically examined with the consent or consent of the competent authority. Even if the child is over the age of 12, the child must consent to the medical examination. If the child is under 12, the parent/guardian has to give consent for the medical examination. Her consent must be noted in the medical exam report. A male accused of rape may be subject to mandatory medical examination for the collection of scientific evidence including DNA against his will pursuant to section 53-A of code of criminal procedure, 1973.

DNA Evidence is only used to determine whether the accused was present at the time of the crime or not and does not prove the man’s culpability in the crime. However, it does aid in the investigation by eliminating potential suspects especially with advances in the commission of crimes.

In addition, DNA data obtained from low quality or damaged samples due to mishandling or exposure to biological agents is often contaminated and cannot provide accurate results. This is an important part of DNA profiling because the samples must be carefully preserved without being contaminated from the crime scene.

DNA evidence cannot be used exclusively for the conviction of the accused as it may be accidentally left behind prior to the duration of the crime. Therefore, it is necessary to corroborate it with already existing traditional evidence to prove that the accused did not participate in the commission of the crime. Another hurdle for DNA Evidence is bone marrow transplantation as it is likely to show variation in the person being examined.

“In Goutam Kundu, this Court was required to consider whether a blood test of a minor child could be ordered to be conducted as a means to determine disputed questions of paternity in what was essentially a matrimonial dispute concerning maintenance. In the said case, the appellant-husband therein disputed the paternity of the child and prayed for blood group test of the child to prove that he was not the father of the child. According to him, if that could be established, he would not be liable to pay maintenance.”

Cases of DNA in India

  1. Kunhiraman vs Manoj

DNA test by itself could be taken as conclusive in deciding paternity. It is useful in other areas also like hair, semen, teeth, dead bodies, etc. But I used it only for tilting the balance in accepting the other acceptable evidence which may not in themselves be cent per cent conclusive. I have no hesitation in confirming the conclusion of the trial Court that Kunhiraman is the putative father of Manoj. Kunhiraman denied paternity. Chief Judicial Magistrate found him to be the putative father and awarded maintenance at the monthly rate of Rs. 500/-.

  1. Bhabani Prasad Jena V. Convener, Secretary, Orissa State Commission for women

“When there is a conflict between a person’s right not to be forced to undergo a medical examination and the court’s obligation to find the truth, the judge must exercise his or her discretion only after weighing the interests of both parties and considering whether, for a fair ruling in the case, a DNA test is absolutely necessary.”

Suggestions 

DNA evidence is extremely important in criminal investigations and proper procedure must be followed to ensure that the evidence is collected safely and without any harm. Quality control must be practiced to ensure that the results are accurate and efficient. In many cases, contaminated or mishandled evidence can lead to the loss of valuable and contributory evidence. Therefore, it is essential that DNA evidence is collected and examined by those with forensic expertise. Evidence must be stored safely so that it is not tampered with or misused. Therefore, proper legislation should be in place to regulate the same.

Forensics experts are expected to act impartially and to conduct a fair examination of the DNA evidence presented before them. In the event of negligence, evidence may be lost which may prove the innocence or guilt of the accused.

The Malimath Committee Report has also proposed the addition of DNA expert within the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) relating to medical examination of the accused.

Conclusion

DNA Evidence is considered to be very precise and can therefore be used efficiently in the criminal justice system. The identification of evidential data through DNA taken from cells, tissues, and bodily fluids has been proven to be very effective in ensuring that guilty people are punished and wrongly convicted individuals are released. Since there are no constitutional obstacles, DNA evidence proves to be very important in understanding the circumstances of the crime. Therefore, DNA evidence protects not only the rights of victims but also the rights of those who are innocent. DNA evidence can be used in conjunction with other traditional evidence to understand the crime and to identify the culprit. To ensure that the evidence is examined with the least amount of care, it must be collected, stored, processed, and examined by an expert with sufficient and accurate knowledge. It is also necessary to amend the CRPC and the Indian Evidence Act in order to acknowledge the technological advances in forensic science and to establish an idea of criminal justice system. Additionally, legislation must be drafted to regulate the collection, storage, examination, use and application of the DNA evidence. We also need to set up DNA banks in India in order to protect the society from recidivists. DNA plays an important part in the administration of justice and it needs to be utilised effectively to ensure an ideal criminal justice system for India.

REFERENCES

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  7. A Lawyers Reference. “CrPC Section 53 – Examination of Accused by Medical Practitioner at the Request of Police Officer,” n.d. https://devgan.in/crpc/section/53/#:~:text=Description-,When%20a%20person%20is%20arrested%20on%20a%20charge%20of%20committing,practitioner%20employed%20in%20a%20hospital.
  8. 2019 3 ALT Crl 172(HC)
  9. (2003) 4 SCC 493
  10. (2015) 1 SCC 365
  11. NAGARATHNA, J. “JUDGMENT.” JUDGMENT. IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA, November 22, 2021. https://main.sci.gov.in/supremecourt/2022/9691/9691_2022_15_1501_42221_Judgement_20-Feb-2023.pdf.
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