JIS News

Minister of State in the Ministry of National Security, Senator Arthur Williams, has advocated the use of DNA as evidence in criminal cases.
Making his presentation in the 2008/09 State of the Nation Debate in the Senate on July 25, Senator Williams reiterated Prime Minister Bruce Golding’s proposal to amend the Fingerprint Act, to allow not only fingerprints and photographs of persons suspected of committing crimes to be taken, but also to allow for Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) samples to be taken and for a DNA Database to be established.
“The usual argument of those who oppose the use of DNA evidence is that it is an intrusion of your privacy. But many countries around the world have now introduced legislation to empower police investigators to take DNA samples, while having regard for the privacy of individuals,” the Senator pointed out.
He noted that in the United Kingdom (UK), which was one of the first countries to introduce legislation to authorize the taking of DNA samples, their legislation has undergone various amendments between 1984 and 2004, which has, each time, extended police powers to take DNA samples.
“In 2004 in the UK, police powers were extended to allow DNA profiles to be taken, without consent, from anyone who is arrested on suspicion of any recordable offence. This includes all but the most trivial offences. The legislation allows the police to keep this information indefinitely, even if the arrested person is never charged, and that is why the UK National DNA database is the most extensive list of people of any DNA database in the world,” Senator Williams noted.
The taking of DNA samples involves collecting biological samples, such as blood, semen, urine, saliva or hair from suspects and comparing these profiles with those generated from samples obtained from crime scenes, or from a DNA database.
The Senator pointed out, however, that the Prime Minister had made it clear that the proposal for Jamaica is for the taking of non-invasive DNA samples only.
Turning to the advantages of DNA evidence, Senator Williams noted that in contrast to other means of criminal investigation, DNA testing is especially valued for its high degree of accuracy in criminal detection, and that internationally, the use of DNA sampling by law enforcement officers has revolutionized the practice of crime-fighting, and produced dramatic results. “It is now clear that DNA evidence assists police investigators in achieving a number of results,” he said.
He noted that one result is that of making vital connections between crimes, for example, where a DNA profile from a crime scene stain is compared with the profile from a stain collected at the scene of a similar crime, and there is a match. “So, for example, semen found at the sites of two separate rapes may be compared and a match in such a case would alert crime-fighters to a multiple offender existing,” Senator Williams said.
Another result, he pointed out, “is in linking totally unrelated crimes, for example where DNA testing of a burglary suspect reveals a match with a profile earlier generated from a murder scene, or where you compare crime scene profiles with those on a DNA database, resulting in a match with a person not previously suspected of the particular crime.”
The Senator explained that DNA evidence assists police investigators in rectifying miscarriages of justice. He noted that several cases have arisen in which persons convicted of crimes in the pre-DNA era have had their convictions overturned, even decades later, once comparisons were made between their genetic specimens and the crime scene material. “It is important to note, that because biological material retains its integrity for long periods once it is properly stored, links can be made even between crimes committed decades apart,” he said.
“I submit that these are powerful reasons for us to proceed in this country to authorize by law, the taking of DNA samples and for the establishment of a DNA database,” the Senator emphasized.
He said that according to the police, repeat offenders contribute to over 80 per cent of the country’s crime. “This would in fact be consistent with studies done all over the world, which show that a small minority of repeat offenders carry out the vast majority of crimes,” Senator Williams said, noting that there is a serious problem of witnesses not coming forward to give evidence because of fear of reprisals against them or their families.
Furthermore, police statistics show that the average “cleared-up” rate in respect of murders over the last 10 years, is only 47.7 per cent. “The last four years have been below the average, and last year, it was only 33.9 per cent. But let me hasten to add, that ‘cleared-up’ only means that someone has been charged for the offence or that a suspect has been killed either by the police or by his cronies. It does not mean that there has been a conviction for the murder. If we are to categorize murders by conviction rates, the percentage of success would be significantly smaller,” Senator Williams pointed out.
“We need in Jamaica, to dramatically increase the detection and conviction rates in our criminal justice system, and DNA evidence will certainly assist in improving our detection and conviction rates,” he added.