DNA Fingerprinting, also known as Genetic Fingerprinting has recently come into vogue as a means of establishing personal identification. In the criminal justice system, DNA fingerprinting has been used with a degree of regularity over the past dozen years or so in order to establish personal identification in criminal matters. DNA has also been used in court paternity suits. DNA is an acronym for deoxyribonucleic acid, the substance that gives the human chromosome its shape.
Simply stated, DNA is the blueprint of the body of every human being. The human body is made up of cells, each of which contains a nucleus. The nucleus is a special compartment that contains chromosomes which, in the human body, number forty-six. These chromosomes (23 from each parent) are composed of tightly wound up DNA molecules which lend each chromosome its unique characteristic shape. Each cell in the human body has the identical DNA makeup. Each DNA strand is composed of genes which determine a person's unique characteristics, such as body structure, or hair and eye color. There are no two humans with identical DNA compositions. The DNA is also inherited from the parents, and that is why the offspring so very often have a close physical resemblance to the parents. Since DNA is inherited from parents, a paternity test is quite useful in legal cases where the identity of the father is in question.
DNA fingerprinting dates back to 1985 when it was first developed in England by Sir Alec Jeffreys, and it has been considered the greatest achievement in forensic science since the development of fingerprinting as a means of personal identification more than one hundred years ago.
Although DNA was introduced as evidence in a criminal proceeding in 1985 and it played a role in the outcome of a trial in 1988, DNA fingerprinting did not capture the fancy of the public until it was used as evidence by the prosecution in the infamous O.J. Simpson trial (see below) in 1995 in Los Angeles Supreme Court, presided over by Judge Ito.
DNA fingerprinting is so named because of its use as a means of identification of a subject. DNA fingerprinting technology continues to advance, and it can be used in criminal court cases because of the ability of crime scene investigators to obtain samples of DNA from clothing and objects and thus identify the source via DNA testing procedures. The analysts then match a number of DNA strands found at the scene of the crime to several DNA samples from the suspect in order to determine whether or not the DNA fingerprints belong to the suspect. Remarkably, around 30% of DNA fingerprinting has exonerated suspects of a crime. Additionally, DNA fingerprinting has been used to prove wrongful convictions in which persons serving sentences, most notably in crimes of rape, have been freed after substantial imprisonment time, following the submission of DNA evidence in a court appeal. DNA fingerprinting has also been used widely in the resolution of paternity cases. The Anna Nicole Smith case (see below) is one of the more famous court cases with the judgment of the court based on DNA fingerprinting.
O. J. Simpson
O. J. Simpson was a Hall of Fame football player who became a running back for the Buffalo Bills after completing a storied college career at U.S.C. Other than his heroics on the field, Simpson gained fame subsequent to his football career by starring in many major motion pictures and in television commercials, especially for the Hertz Rent-A-Car Company. In June, 1994, Simpson was accused of murdering his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her companion, Ron Goldman. At the trial which took place a year after the deaths, DNA fingerprinting evidence was presented for the first time in a major case. Blood found of the door of Simpson's Ford Bronco matched the blood found at the crime scene as established by DNA testing. The same blood was found adjacent to a shoeprint fitting Simpson's shoe size and on other articles at the crime scene. The evidence was overwhelming and irrefutable, yet the jury incomprehensibly came back with an innocent verdict. It was apparent that the prosecutorial attorneys made some errors in their presentation of the DNA evidence. However, subsequent cases have been very successfully prosecuted in light of what was learned through the Simpson trial.
Anna Nicole Smith
Anna Nicole Smith was a star in Hollywood whose claim to fame was 1993 Playmate of the Year and a marriage to a fan, Texas oil tycoon and billionaire, Howard Marshall, who died soon after the marriage. Anna died in February, 2007 a few months after giving birth to her daughter, Dannielynn. At the time of Ms. Smith's death, she was married to her lawyer, Howard Stern. A Los Angeles photographer by the name of Larry Birkhard claimed he was the father of Dannielynn. Since Danielynn is the heiress to millions of dollars, the paternity case received tremendous notoriety in the tabloids as well as on TV. The court ordered that both men submit DNA samples. After laboratory testing, The DNA match was with Birkhard who subsequently took custody of the child.
Modern DNA technology is assisting the law enforcement officers, the prosecutors, the judges and the courts to make the rightful determinations in the outcome of criminal and civil cases. The fact that each person's DNA composition is as unique as fingerprints has assured this forensic advancement.