Rapid DNA Machines Spell Trouble for Constitutional Rights

As the use of Rapid DNA machines continues to spread, some police officers can now get nearly automatic DNA test results, right from the comfort of their own precincts. However, forensic experts are already raising red flags about these “magic” DNA devices – and how they could impact our Constitutional rights to privacy and due process under the law.

As a Boston criminal defense lawyer, our attorney Brad Bailey has seen firsthand how conventional DNA evidence can already be misused against defendants, from lab technicians who tamper with evidence to persistent errors in our genetic matching systems. If you believe that you were accused as a result of faulty DNA evidence, our team can help you pinpoint the problem and build a strong defense.

The Dangers of Rapid DNA Machines

In the past, when police took samples from crime scenes, it could take up to a month for an outside laboratory to complete the genetic testing process. Under the DNA Identification Act of 1994, law enforcement officials had extremely limited access to the national Combined DNA Index System (called CODIS), and were required to submit any crime scene samples to a fully-accredited lab first. In some cases, samples would need to be sent directly to the FBI for processing.

Once the Rapid DNA Act was signed into law in 2017, however, it spelled a seismic shift in the policies governing DNA testing, by authorizing police officers to upload genetic data directly to local and county DNA databases. They can also now upload individual profiles to CODIS, albeit only for select crimes. Armed with Rapid DNA boxes that can produce results within 90 minutes, police officers in select precincts have already taken to adding as many DNA samples from people as they can, even encouraging visitors to submit a sample.

Here are just a few of the problems that may come with Rapid DNA usage:

  • Anyone deemed “suspicious” could be added to a local or national criminal database. The scope of DNA collection has expended in recent years, with more than half of the states collecting genetic material from every arrestee. The Rapid DNA testing method could further that trend, by connecting anyone considered “suspicious” with a DNA database. Civil rights experts believe this will encourage police to target racial and other minorities, who are often deemed suspicious without justification.
  • Rapid DNA machines were not designed for complex crime scene analysis. Anyone who works around crime scenes knows how delicate the evidence collection and separation process can be. Rapid DNA machines are simply not as sophisticated as manual human testing, and can’t always tell the difference when a sample has been contaminated, nor determine when there are small irregularities.
  • The samples are destroyed once submitted to the machine. Unlike traditional DNA testing, submitting a swab to the Rapid DNA machine will effectively destroy it. This alone could seriously threaten Constitutional rights, as it eliminates the prospect of re-testing (or contesting) a specific piece of evidence.
  • Police officers are not required to gain special training before use. Lab technicians must undergo years of training to handle crime scene evidence. However, with Rapid DNA machines, there are no specific rules governing how police officers must collect and submit the evidence. It’s up to the precinct, which could lead to widespread misuse.
  • The technology is still not entirely reliable. In one case in Sweden, use of Rapid DNA evidence brought one trial to a premature halt, when it was discovered that at least one-fourth of the samples gave unreliable profiles.

Although advocates for Rapid DNA believe it will promote justice rather than destroy it, there are many reasons to be skeptical about this new policy direction. Time will only tell whether misuse of DNA evidence will become a permanent staple in our criminal justice system, as police officers increasingly turn to quick solutions rather than committed investigative work.

Do you think faulty DNA evidence may have played a role in your criminal charges? Contact Brad Bailey immediately at (617) 500-0252 for a consultation in Boston and surrounding areas.

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