- Building quality conviction and DNA profiling can effectively reduce repeat offense by more than 40%
- Increased severity of punishment not a strong deterrent of crime, reveal international studies
As the country debates and scrutinizes the merits of instituting a national databank of crime scene DNA profiles, several experts from the fields of forensics, biotechnology, law enforcement, criminal justice, and public policy have come out in support of such a system, with adequate regulation. While recognising the importance of DNA technology in solving violent and sexual crimes, they have cited prominent international studies that prove the effectiveness of databases in preventing repeat crime, thereby possibly contributing more to public safety than conventional punitive measures.
According to a growing body of research, the most effective way to deter crime is to increase the probability of the offender getting caught, rather than increasing the severity of punishment. It is being recognised that adding years to an already long prison sentence tends not to change a criminal’s mindset or behaviour much. In her first study, American economist Jennifer Doleac from Texas A&M University used criminal history data from seven US states over a period of 10 years and found that violent offenders who gave a DNA sample were 17% less likely to re-offend within the first five years of release than those who did not. Recently, more robust studies have found that adding people charged with a felony to a DNA database reduced the likelihood of another conviction within the following year by more than 40%.
A leading policy expert from South Africa and the Founder of The DNA Project, Vanessa Lynch, Senior Government Affairs Consultant, GTH-GA has observed that since the enactment of the DNA Act which allowed for the establishment and expansion of the National Forensic DNA Database in South Africa, there have seen violent sexual offenders linked to as many as 30 crimes from hits on the DNA Database. "The retention and storage of forensic DNA profiles is important in the fight against crime, particularly against gender-based violence, where there is little to no argument against the value of forensic DNA profiling to identify offenders and making sure they don’t repeat their crimes,” she said.
Bringing a legal perspective, Sr Advocate, Supreme Court of India, Vivek Sood noted, “With a population of about 1.5 billion, it is imperative for the criminal justice system in India to have a DNA database of the accused and convicts especially those charged with heinous offences of homicide, sexual offences, terrorism, kidnapping for ransom, dacoity, etc. Such a database would not only create the fear of being identified thus lowering crime rate but also prove the crime beyond reasonable doubt. Also, such a database would be critical for proving cases that are closed due to no suspects. With such a mechanism in place, crimes can be proven, and criminals caught even where cases have been closed for years and decades. DNA samples lifted from the crime scene can be compared with the database to search for the culprits. This is a necessity not just for effective tracking of crime but also for exoneration of the innocent.”
Leading forensics expert, Dr Vivek Sahajpal, Assistant Director (DNA), State FSL, Himachal Pradesh added, "Criminal DNA Database is a powerful scientific tool not just to solve crimes but also presents a very potent deterrent to criminals, especially repeat offenders. Further, it cuts down the cost of investigation as it easily identifies the offender even when there are no known suspects. As Forensic DNA profiling is based on profiling of non-coding DNA, it does not reveal anything about health, psychology, or personality of a person and as such does not impinge upon privacy. It's high time that India should also have a DNA database as it would not only solve crimes, but also deter criminals from committing more crimes in the future”.
In a recent national forum organised to discuss the matter, Dr K Thangaraj, Director, Centre for DNA Fingerprinting & Diagnostics (CDFD) noted, “DNA databases help in establishing the link between previous cases and present unsolved cases. They are effective in solving investigations because majority of crimes are committed by repeat offenders and criminals. It would be very useful in tracing multiple/repeated offenders, wherever they are. Establishment of an effective DNA database requires time and full cooperation between forensic laboratories, law enforcement agencies, and policymakers.”
According to the Interpol, as many as 70 countries have a national DNA database, including the US, Canada, and China, holding more than 125 million offender samples. India is counted among countries that use DNA profiling in criminal investigations but do not store DNA information in a centralised database. In the absence of a database, the estimated number of DNA profiles developed from crime scene evidence in India has grown from 10,000 cases tested in 2017 to nearly 20,000 in 2019. However, considering that India reports over half a million violent crimes every year, the volume of testing remains extremely low, especially in crimes against women and children.