In 1953, the double helix, the twisted-ladder like structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (“DNA”) was discovered by scientists James Watson and Francis Crick. DNA is a self-replicating material present in all human beings as the main part of their chromosomes. This material is important because it carries an individual’s unique genetic information.
DNA profiling was originally developed as a method to determine paternity. It was used to link a parent to a child. It was first used in court in 1986 during a criminal trial to exonerate a 17-year-old teen who confessed to two rape-murders in England. The DNA tests proved that the actual attacker was someone else, not the teen. Even though the teen confessed to both rape-murders, he was exonerated because they were able to prove that it was not his DNA found at the crime scene or on the victims.
In the United States, the first use of DNA profiling to support a conviction occurred in 1987 in Orange County, Florida. Tommy Lee Andrews, was convicted of rape after DNA tests matched his DNA, from a blood sample, with that of semen traces found in the rape victim.
What is DNA Profiling?
DNA profiling was considered a breakthrough in forensic science. For the first time, law enforcement was able to use technology to identify an accused person and link or connect that person to a crime based on the presence of genetic material at the crime scene. This same genetic material can also be used to exonerate an wrongfully-charged person. Practically, it can support a not-guilty verdict in a criminal case, as was the case with the English teen, or can be used as the basis of overturning a criminal conviction.
No two people, with the exception of identical twins, have the same DNA. Approximately 99.9% of the human DNA sequence is the same for every person. The remaining .01%, and the matter most valuable to a forensic scientist, is different in every person. DNA profiling creates a map of the .01% of a human’s DNA that is different. A unique identifier is established to connect the matter to a person and enable law enforcement to connect a person to the crime scene.
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