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Forensic Identification and Criminal Justice: Forensic Science, Justice and Risk

NCJ Number
Carole McCartney
Date Published
This book critically examines the use of forensic science in the criminal justice process, with a focus on legislation in the United Kingdom impacting the nonconsensual taking of fingerprint or DNA samples and their subsequent indefinite retention in databases.
The main argument put forth by the author is that while forensic science can offer a wealth of information about criminal suspects and crime scenes, there is an inherent “mismatch” between science and the law that renders the current use of forensic identification techniques potentially problematic at both the police investigative phase and in the courtroom. The first chapter traces the legislative framework in the United Kingdom governing police powers to take non-consensual fingerprint and DNA samples from those accused of crimes. Legislative changes in the powers to take non-consensual samples from suspects have had to confront the tensions between the risks involved with allowing non-consensual sample taking (violation of privacy rights) and the risks involved with criminality and the protection of public safety. The second chapter examines the legal issues surrounding the collection and use of DNA evidence during police investigations in the United Kingdom while chapter 3 examines the legal and political implications related to using DNA evidence in a court of law, focusing specifically on the United Kingdom and the United States. Chapter 4 critically examines the development and use of forensic identity databases in the United Kingdom and chapter 5 reviews the laws and attitudes surrounding fingerprinting or DNA sampling and the development of DNA databases in a selection of European countries, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The sixth chapter considers the issues and possibilities regarding the future criminal justice uses of forensic identification. The author notes that forensic science, along with its imperfections and challenges, is likely to remain wedded to criminal justice processes and that to avoid a “technological tyranny,” legal practitioners, criminal justice agencies, and legal reformers are urged to solve the “culture clash” between law and science. Footnotes, references, index