DNA Fingerprinting: A Powerful Law-Enforcement Tool With Serious Social Implications

DNA fingerprinting has been hailed by law-enforcement officials as the 20th century’s most important breakthrough in forensic science. They are eager to use the new technology to identify and prosecute violent criminals as well as to exonerate innocent persons who are suspects in criminal cases. Although DNA finger printing has not yet been adequately tested in the courts, the State Attorney General of California recently proposed creating a computerized data base of genetic information

Eugene Garfield
May 28, 1989

DNA fingerprinting has been hailed by law-enforcement officials as the 20th century’s most important breakthrough in forensic science. They are eager to use the new technology to identify and prosecute violent criminals as well as to exonerate innocent persons who are suspects in criminal cases. Although DNA finger printing has not yet been adequately tested in the courts, the State Attorney General of California recently proposed creating a computerized data base of genetic information on violent criminals. However, transferring DNA fingerprinting from the lab bench to the bar may not be as easy as it seems. The legal application of this new technology raises serious and controversial issues of interest to scientists and the general public.

The term “DNA fingerprinting” was coined by geneticist Alec J. Jeifreys, University of Leicester, U.K. who developed the method in 1985. Several of Jeifreys’ “hot” papers were identified in a recent issue of The...