Familial Dna Searching Essay

1558 words - 7 pages

Nowadays, DNA is a crucial component of a crime scene investigation, used to both to identify perpetrators from crime scenes and to determine a suspect’s guilt or innocence (Butler, 2005). The method of constructing a distinctive “fingerprint” from an individual’s DNA was first described by Alec Jeffreys in 1985. He discovered regions of repetitions of nucleotides inherent in DNA strands that differed from person to person (now known as variable number of tandem repeats, or VNTRs), and developed a technique to adjust the length variation into a definitive identity marker (Butler, 2005). Since then, DNA fingerprinting has been refined to be an indispensible source of evidence, expanded into ...view middle of the document...

Each person inherits two copies of these markers from his or her mother and father, so a higher similarity denotes a closer biological relationship. The probability of two samples matching is around one in a billion (dna.gov). DNA profiles are compiled by using gel or capillary electrophoresis to separate samples into a pattern distinctive of the subject’s DNA based on ionic charge, size, or mobility. Usually, samples in the database are searched at moderate stringency, which requires that all alleles between the two samples match, but the number of alleles can vary, accounting for DNA contamination or degradation. Partial, or candidate, matches are samples that have a similar number of alleles in the forensic profile but are not exact, and are used in familial DNA searching to find close biological relatives of the original forensic profile. Other evidence is used to determine relatives, including Y chromosome analysis, which traces family relationships based on the fact that the Y chromosome is transmitted directly between a father and his sons; age; and geographic location. The process is based on the principle that first-order relatives have closer DNA profiles than unrelated individuals, and also on the sociological assumption that criminal tendencies appear in families; according to “the Bureau of Justice Statistics Correctional Populations in United States’ 1996 report, at least 42.8% of inmates had close relatives who also have been incarcerated.” (Budowle 2010).
Familial DNA searching has a variety of uses in a criminal investigative situation. Using the method can solve cases where the culprit has an already-incarcerated relative, exonerate innocent suspects, and solve cold cases. On July 7, 2010, the serial killer known as the “Grim Sleeper,” so called for the 13 year gap between killing sprees, was arrested in the first case of active familial DNA searching used to successfully solve a homicide in America. The suspect, Lonnie David Franklin Jr., was the presumed murderer of 9 women and one man from 1985 to 2007, and also an alleged sexual predator. DNA samples from crime scenes were run through California’s DNA database, and 200 partial matches were found. The results were narrowed down with corroborating evidence like, race, age, birth certificates, proximity to crime scenes, and Y chromosome comparisons; eventually pinpointing one man, Christopher Franklin, who had been recently charged with possession of felony weapons. A “familial search committee” reviewed all of the data collected and agreed to continue with the investigation. Police then conducted perpetual surveillance of his father, and retrieved DNA samples from a discarded pizza crust and eating utensils he left that cemented his guilty status (Steinhauer 2010). DNA familial searching can be used for any case with DNA evidence, no matter the time frame elapsed, and is especially valuable in cases involving sexual assaults, homicide, or serial offenders. It is already...

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