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Some Police Departments Are Using Rapid DNA Technology to Quickly Solve Rape Cases, But Is It Reliable?


New techniques that allow for “Rapid DNA” testing and claim to offer law enforcement a means of quickly and efficiently testing DNA samples in criminal cases has drawn fire from some criminal defense advocates and crime lab officials, who are concerned about the reliability of police departments using such techniques, especially before they have even been cleared to be admissible as evidence in criminal cases.

Indeed, some cities are already starting to experiment with the devices in solving rape cases, which can otherwise sometimes take months or more than a year to make progress on. The “rapid DNA” device promises the ability to identify suspects rapists in hours, which can then lead to their arrest within weeks. If more and more cities get on board with using the device, it could completely change how rapes are investigated.

How It Works

The devices have been described as “about the size of a large microwave oven,” and are designed to allow anyone to operate them. Instead of the traditional method of trained laboratory technicians extracting DNA, measuring it, making copies, and then running it through an instrument that produces a person’s unique DNA code, rapid DNA simply requires that the individual place the same on a chip, put it in the box, and, in less than two hours, it produces a DNA profile.

Concerns from A Number of Officials, Including The FBI & Judges

According to some experts, the unregulated technology is associated with risk of mistakes and abuse, especially in rape cases, which are arguably too complex for the new technology because they involve mixtures of multiple individuals’ DNA instead of what the technology is more suited for; DNA from a single person. For example, rapid DNA has previously been used to identify victims of natural disasters.  Certain crime scenes (such as those involving allegations of rape) are more complex because they contain mixtures of DNA left by multiple people, include innocent people. Some experts claim that, as a result, additional, trained lab scientists are necessary in these circumstances because these types of samples require additional analysis. And where errors lead to false hits, this reliance could turn into wrongful conviction because it is difficult for suspects to overcome a presumption of guilt.

The expansion of new techniques like these has emerged with very little government oversight, all while the FBI urges caution and judges still do not allow rapid DNA evidence to be introduced at trial. Indeed, the FBA does not currently allow rapid DNA results into CODIS, its national index of criminal databases. Still, some police are using the technology in ways that push the boundaries of standard law enforcement to analyze crime scene evidence in some contexts.

Work with A Criminal Defense Attorney Who Questions the Science in Criminal Cases

When it comes to ensuring that your rights and freedoms are protected, it is essential that you work with a criminal defense attorney who relies on their own forensic experts; precisely because law enforcement may rely on faulty methods. Contact our NYC criminal attorneys at the office of Mark I. Cohen, Esq. to find out more about our services.




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