Evaluating the role and impact of forensic DNA profiling on key areas of the criminal justice system

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The advent of the modem technique of forensic DNA profiling has resulted in a lively union between one of the more advanced and dynamic disciplines of modern science and what is, arguably, society's most revered, influential and complex institution, the criminal justice system (CJS). The alliance, begun over 20 years ago, has been fruitful in obvious ways. There has been profound technological advancement, and astonishing policing outcomes. But the years have also brought strains, evidenced in the on-going, and sometimes bitter, socio-legal controversy. The sheer pace of the developments surrounding DNA profiling, and the scope of its impact, have meant that the forensic and legal agencies associated with its use have often been able to do little more than fight a rearguard action when it came to handling the pressures and complexities they faced. This has been particularly the case since the use of forensic DNA databases began expanding so notably around the globe. Managing the demand for the forensic technology, and its remarkable potential has required an unprecedented commitment of public funds. Both forensic and police operational practices have had to be modified. And very close attention has been called for on the part of judicial and legislative bodies in states and countries everywhere. Given the circumstances in which this substantial progress has occurred, the capacity of the forensic community to undertake reasoned strategic assessment of the future implications of change has been severely restricted. In fact, there has been a lack of reflection, and far too little evaluation of the outcomes of developmental efforts and achievements. The focus of the forensic community has been consumed with meeting the immediate demands and implementing the next generation of technology. No matter how understandable it might be, this situation is unfortunate. Over recent years the field of forensic DNA profiling has matured from being an obscure, niche discipline to become a mainstream, public-good science. The technological platform for it and its operational scope have both broadened notably; and the socio-legal ramifications of its use have intensified. This vast increase in the scale and complexity of the operational context of the forensic DNA discipline makes it imperative that the forensic community understand its role in a more holistic sense so as to have a greater level of influence over its future impact. Achieving this requires developing a deeper awareness of the contextual environment within which forensic DNA profiling is applied. This research sets out to undertake such an evaluation. Its aim is to take a system-wide view of the role and impact of forensic DNA profiling on key areas of the CJS.
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