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DNA gets criminal status

New York City policy of charging genetic material in lieu of a person raises technical and ethical concerns

Diane Martindale(dmartindale@writescience.ca)

Today, DNA evidence is used as routinely as fingerprints to help prosecute criminals as well as to help free those wrongly convicted. Usually, in these cases, the accused has been identified. But New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg this month announced that the city would henceforth begin indicting DNA itself when there is no known suspect.

Under the new program, called the John Doe Indictment Project, authorities will link unsolved sex crimes with the attackers' genetic code and file charges against them even before a suspect has been identified or arrested. This will allow officials to satisfy the state's statute of limitations on such crimes, which does not allow prosecutions after 10 years. Thus, a rapist from whom semen was gathered and stored but who was never identified may be tried at any time should officials obtain matching DNA.

While the strategy has been used sparingly in New...

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