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Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Friday, October 20, 2006

Crime-solving Goes Topsy Turvy with Technology: Non-DNA for Violent Crimes & DNA for Non-violent Crimes

Topsy turvy in a good way.  Hearing about the prevalence and expansion of DNA-analysis and DNA technology in crime labs isn't suprising these day, but I still love to hear about it.  Then again, there's still some brazen reluctance about using DNA even when it can definitively prove guilt or innocence. But here are a couple new trends that are shaking up the crime-solving scene as technology expands: digital crime labs and the expansion of DNA analysis to solve property crimes. 

Digital Crime Labs to Solve Violent Crime: Increasingly, criminals are leaving behind digital traces of their activities — on computers, cell phones, BlackBerries and other electronic devices. This week, the FBI announced it’s setting up a Regional Computer Forensics Lab in Louisville that will examine digital evidence from law enforcement agencies across Kentucky. The lab, one of 14 nationwide managed by the FBI, will be staffed by one officer each from Louisville Metro Police, the Kentucky State Police, Kentucky Bureau of Investigation and Lexington Police, in addition to two FBI agents. Just as the Kentucky State Police forensic lab does when it accepts blood and DNA evidence from other departments, the new lab will analyze materials and provide a report to police, and then have experts testify about the analysis at trial. More from the CourierJournal.com. . .

Expansion of DNA Analysis to Solve Property Crimes: According to a USA today review, in 10 states — Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Virginia and Wisconsin — the total number of DNA matches in property-crime cases has exceeded the number of matches in violent crimes.  And it's all because DNA testing has become more sophisticated. DNA analysts (at national labs) can draw genetic profiles from evidence left at burglary scenes — palm prints, cigarette butts, sweat stains on gloves and masks — nearly as easily as they can get profiles from blood or semen at the scenes of violent crimes. And government grants for testing evidence, initially limited to violent crimes, now can be used to analyze DNA from property crimes. Critics say using DNA to solve non-violent crimes could raise privacy concerns by dramatically expanding the database. Some question spending millions of dollars to probe such crimes citing concern for civil liberties. But supporters of expanded DNA testing say burglars often go on to commit more serious crimes. In Alabama, about 80% of the rapes solved via DNA databasing in the past five years were linked to criminals whose DNA was taken after a burglary conviction. More from USAToday.com. . . [Michele Berry]

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