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  • Sayi Gamlin

DNA Evidence and Its Role in Criminal Investigation

Sayi Gamlin,

RGNUL, Patiala

DNA Evidence and Its Role in Criminal Investigation

Introduction

Courts previously relied upon traditional methods of evidence collected from crime scenes or presented before the court.[1] The evidence collected is then linked with the accused and convicted upon further investigation. In most scenarios, justice is served but the wrongful conviction of the innocent also occurs when an alibi favours the accused. This leads to several criminals being freed due to a lack of evidence against them. Hence a proper system needed to be developed to ensure criminal offenders were getting the just they deserved and to stop the exoneration of innocent who had been wrongfully convicted.

Forensic Evidence therefore plays an important role in ensuring unfairness in the criminal investigation is lessened. The evidence is highly accurate and helps in identifying the culprits through evidence left by them.[2] DNA or Deoxyribonucleic acid is a biological blueprint unique to humans. Every cell within the human body consists of DNA which can be used to identify a person, no two person’s DNA is the same except in the case of twins. DNA is used in criminal investigations to identify the perpetrators of crime with the help of DNA left behind by them at the crime scene.

Criminal Investigation now relies upon DNA evidence to find perpetrators of crimes as the method is an efficient and accurate way of identifying the criminals. But at the same time, the method proves to be incriminating towards an individual’s right to privacy.

What is DNA Evidence?

DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is the building block of the human body; virtually every cell contains DNA.[3] DNA of a person’s blood, hair, teeth, and skin are identical, and most importantly, their DNA doesn’t change throughout their life. DNA can be used as evidence in criminal investigations by collecting it from the crime Scene. Upon collection by forensic experts, it is examined by isolating the DNA and then conducting DNA profiling analysis to identify the perpetrators. And because DNA is unique to a person the evidence is mostly highly accurate in proving the involvement of an accused in the crime or innocence of a convicted person. Three types of results can occur in DNA testing[4]-

· Inclusion: When the DNA Evidence found from the crime scene matches with the DNA profile of the victim or the suspect then that individual is included as a potential source of evidence.

· Exclusion: When the DNA Evidence found from the crime scene doesn’t match with the DNA profile of the victim or the suspect then that individual is excluded as a potential source of evidence.

· Inconclusive: When DNA Evidence found provides no information that would allow an individual to be either included or excluded as a potential source of evidence.

DNA evidence plays a critical role and provides scientific evidence beyond a reasonable doubt in several criminal investigations, i.e., sexual assault, child abuse, murder, and civil cases, e.g., paternity or maternity disputes.[5] It is also helpful in investigating blind and cold cases.

For sexual assault cases, semen is collected as DNA evidence from the victim’s body for examination and identification with the accused’s DNA, as observed in Priyadarshini Mattoo's[6] case. It can used to identify the mutilated victims and accused as observed in Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, in 1992[7] as the bodies were severely damaged in the explosion and the bodies of both the prime minister and the culprit were identified by the examination of DNA.[8]

DNA evidence can also be used for determining the paternity or maternity of a child. As stated, DNA is a unique makeup of a person which is inherited from one’s parents.[9] In the Kantidev vs Poshiram[10] case, the court clearly stated that “The result of a genuine DNA test is said to be scientifically accurate.[11]

Hence DNA profiling/evidence serves as an efficient and accurate way of for criminal investigation as well as civil investigation.

Role of DNA Evidence in Criminal Investigation

· Exonerating the innocent

DNA evidence has conclusively proven in several cases that an innocent person was wrongfully convicted. This leads to the innocent individual being freed and the correct identification of the perpetrator. In Colin Pitchfork's[12] case it was proven with the help of DNA profiling that the person being held as a prime suspect was an innocent individual and the perpetrator of the sexual assault was another individual.

· Identification of real culprits

With the help of DNA profiling, the real culprits/ perpetrators of the crime can be identified, as observed in the case of Collin Pitchfork[13].

· Providing definitive proof

DNA is unique to a person as no other individual has the same DNA, except for twins. So, if someone’s DNA is found at the crime scene it is definitive proof that they were involved in the crime, it is then further investigation that will prove if they committed the crime or not. Through DNA evidence criminal investigation determines the involvement and non-involvement of an individual.

Limitation of DNA Evidence

DNA evidence is an accurate way to establish whether the accused person is involved in a crime or not but the evidence fails to indicate the mens rea, which is the intention of an individual to commit a wrongdoing. However, it aids in an investigation by eliminating possible suspects, especially with the advancements in the commission of crime.[14] DNA samples collected from the crime scene are to be properly preserved to avoid contamination, if they are ruined then they cannot be used for DNA profiling anymore.

DNA evidence can also not be used solely for the conviction of an accused person as it might be accidentally left behind before the duration of the crime, so it’s important to corroborate such evidence with already existing traditional evidence to prove that the accused had not taken part in the commission of a crime.[15]

With the advancement in technology, the validity of DNA evidence is being threatened. Medical inventions such as assisted reproduction and bone marrow transplantation, blood transfusions, etc. For example, bone marrow transplantation can alter an individual’s DNA profile.

Legal challenges and implication of DNA Evidence

An important question that arises when using DNA Evidence as a method for criminal investigation is whether accused persons can be forced to provide samples for DNA examination as it violates an individual’s right to privacy and right to self-incrimination. In the Indian judiciary, Constitutional and legal provisions such as Article 21, the right to life, and Article 20(3), the right against self-incrimination are provided as a person’s basic fundamental rights to ensure that legal procedures are fair, just, and equitable. Article 14 of the constitution enshrines that everybody is to be equal before the law, which prevents discriminatory procedures in the legal process.

Though various such provisions have been provided precedent legal judgments in India depict a different scenario than the one enshrined in the constitution. Like in the case of Ramalal Bhogilal Shah v. V.K. Guha,[16] The Supreme Court held that though Art 20(3) protects against individuals being forced to witness against themselves if a DNA test is required then it can be performed under court supervision. Similarly in the State of Bombay v Khathikalu Oghad[17] it was held that conducting or providing samples for medical examination is not self-incriminating. In Menaka Gandhi v. Union of India,[18] The Supreme Court held that Art 21 can be overlooked in 2 instances one being where there is a valid law and the other being that there is a procedure that is just, reasonable, and established by law.

The Indian law also prohibits forceful medical examination of sexual assault victims, as per section 164A of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. Consent must be obtained either from the victim or relevant authorities. In contrast to this male rape suspects are subjected to mandatory medical testing, which also includes DNA profiling, which can be done without their consent under Section 53-A of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. Again, this proves contradictions in its legal provision regarding DNA evidence.

This therefore creates the main issue in DNA Evidence which is whether it holds such a high evidentiary value to overlook the basic rights provided to the accused under the constitution. Here the basic ideology behind the Criminal justice system plays an important role i.e., to ensure that the guilty are punished, the innocent are set free and justice is administered to the affected.[19] In Thongorani Alias K. Damayanti v. State of Orissa and Ors[20] the Orissa High Court said that often in serious crimes such as murder, rape, etc the victim might be the only witness and they out of fear or coercion by the culprits give false testimonies, so it becomes critical that accurate evidence is provided to ensure the effected party is protected. The court also held that before passing an order to conduct DNA testing, the court must balance the public interest and the rights of the accused provided under Article 20(3) and Article 21 under the Constitution.[21]

Hence such rights can be refused only if the proper balance between the rights of the accused and the interest of the society is established.

Conclusion

DNA Evidence is therefore an accurate and substantial method for the identification of criminals and the exoneration of innocent. However, at the same time, it raises legal issues related to privacy and self-incrimination. Therefore, a delicate balance is to be maintained between constitutional rights and the societal interest of the people to ensure that justice is served as well as a person’s fundamental right is not curtailed. The court hence plays an important role in maintaining the balance by weighing the interests of the public and constitutional rights, especially in situations where DNA Evidence is needed for accuracy. The task of ensuring fairness and equitability whilst respecting the constitutional task remains a complex situation, yet it is an essential path to ensuring justice.

References

1. Grette Sara Titus, The role and importance of DNA evidence in the Indian Criminal Justice System, 17 Indian Journal of Forensic Medicine & Toxicology 30–35 (2023).

2. The Hammer Law Firm, LLC, The role of DNA evidence in criminal defense cases The Hammer Law Firm, LLC (last visited Jun 10, 2024)., https://www.thehammerlawfirm.com/criminal-defense-blog/2023/november/the-role-of-dna-evidence-in-criminal-defense-cas/.

3. Dr. Nirpat Patel, et el., The Role of DNA in Criminal Investigation – Admissibility in Indian Legal System and Future Perspectives, Vol.2 International Journal of Humanities and Social Science Invention 15–21 (2013).

4. Ankit Srivastava et al., Impact of DNA evidence in the criminal justice system: Indian Legislative Perspectives - Egyptian Journal of Forensic Sciences SpringerOpen (last visited Jun 10, 2024), https://ejfs.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s41935-022-00309-y.

5. Santosh Kumar Singh v. State through CBI (2010) 9SCC 747.

6. Nalini v. Union of India, Criminal Appeal Nos. 321-325 of 1998.

7.Kantidev vs Poshiram2001 (5) SCC311.

8.R v Pitchfork [2009] EWCA Crim 963.

9.Ramalal Bhogilal Shah v. V.K. Guha 1973 SCC (1) 696.

10.State of Bombay v Khathikalu oghad 1961 AIR 1808.

11.Menaka Gandhi v. Union of India (1978) 1 SCC 248.

12.Thongorani Alias K. Damayanti v. State of Orissa and Ors 2004 criLJ 4003.

[1] Grette Sara Titus, The role and importance of DNA evidence in the Indian Criminal Justice System, 17 Indian Journal of Forensic Medicine & Toxicology 30–35 (2023).

[2] Ibid

[3] The Hammer Law Firm, LLC, The role of DNA evidence in criminal defense cases The Hammer Law Firm, LLC (last visited Jun 10, 2024)., https://www.thehammerlawfirm.com/criminal-defense-blog/2023/november/the-role-of-dna-evidence-in-criminal-defense-cas/.

[4] Dr. Nirpat Patel, et el., The Role of DNA in Criminal Investigation – Admissibility in Indian Legal System and Future Perspectives, Vol.2 International Journal of Humanities and Social Science Invention 15–21 (2013).

[5] Ankit Srivastava et al., Impact of DNA evidence in criminal justice system: Indian Legislative Perspectives - Egyptian Journal of Forensic Sciences SpringerOpen (last visited Jun 10, 2024), https://ejfs.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s41935-022-00309-y.

[6] Santosh Kumar Singh v. State through CBI (2010) 9SCC 747.

[7] Nalini v. Union of India, Criminal Appeal Nos. 321-325 of 1998.

[8] Grette Sara Titus, The role and importance of DNA evidence in the Indian Criminal Justice System, 17 Indian Journal of Forensic Medicine & Toxicology 30–35 (2023).

[9] Ibid

[10] Kantidev vs Poshiram2001 (5) SCC311

[11] Ankit Srivastava et al., Impact of DNA evidence in criminal justice system: Indian Legislative Perspectives - Egyptian Journal of Forensic Sciences SpringerOpen (last visited Jun 10, 2024), https://ejfs.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s41935-022-00309-y.

[12] R v Pitchfork [2009] EWCA Crim 963.

[13] R v Pitchfork [2009] EWCA Crim 963.

[14]Grette Sara Titus, The role and importance of DNA evidence in the Indian Criminal Justice System, 17 Indian Journal of Forensic Medicine & Toxicology 30–35 (2023).

[15] Id

[16] Ramalal Bhogilal Shah v. V.K. Guha 1973 SCC (1) 696.

[17] State of Bombay v Khathikalu oghad 1961 AIR 1808

[18]Menaka Gandhi v. Union of India (1978) 1 SCC 248

[19] Grette Sara Titus, The role and importance of DNA evidence in the Indian Criminal Justice System, vol. 17 Indian Journal of Forensic Medicine & Toxicology 30–35 (2023).

[20] Thongorani Alias K. Damayanti v. State of Orissa and Ors 2004 criLJ 4003

[21] Grette Sara Titus, The role and importance of DNA evidence in the Indian Criminal Justice System, vol. 17 Indian Journal of Forensic Medicine & Toxicology 30–35 (2023).


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