DNA Tests Offer Deeper Examination Of Accused

Rick Weiss has a fascinating piece in the Washington Post that describes current trends in using DNA in the courts and that provides a recap of the history of DNA use in the legal system:

Twenty years after DNA fingerprints were first admitted by American courts as a way to link suspects to crime scenes, a new and very different class of genetic test is approaching the bench.

Rather than simply proving, for example, that the blood on a suspect’s clothes does or does not match that of a murder victim, these “second generation” DNA tests seek to shed light on the biological traits and psychological states of the accused. In effect, they allow genes to “testify” in ways never before possible, in some cases resolving long-standing legal tangles but in others raising new ones.

Already, chemical companies facing “toxic tort” claims have persuaded courts to order DNA tests on the people suing them, part of an attempt to show that the plaintiffs’ own genes made them sick — not the companies’ products.

In other cases, defense attorneys are asking judges to admit test results suggesting that their clients have a genetic predisposition for violent or impulsive behavior, adding a potential “DNA defense” to a legal system that until now has held virtually everyone accountable for their actions except the insane or mentally retarded.

Some gene tests are even being touted for their capacity to help judges predict the likelihood that a convict, if released, will break the law again — a measure of “future dangerousness” that raises questions about how far courts can go to abort crimes that have not yet been committed.

Read more in the Washington Post

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