DNA evidence has made a significant contribution to criminal investigations in Australia and around the world since it was widely adopted in the 1990s. The direct matching of DNA profiles, such as comparing one obtained from a crime scene with one obtained from a suspect or database, remains a widely used technique in criminal investigations. A range of new DNA profiling techniques continues to be developed and applied in criminal investigations around the world.
This paper is the third in a series by the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) on DNA evidence. The first, published in 1990 when the technology was in its relative infancy, outlined the scientific background for DNA evidence, considered early issues such as scientific reliability and privacy and described its application in early criminal cases. The second, published in 2002, expanded on the scientific background and discussed a significant number of Australian cases in a 12-year period, illustrating issues that had arisen in investigations, at trial and in the use of DNA in the review of convictions and acquittals.
There have been some significant developments in the science and technology behind DNA evidence in the 13 years since 2002 that have important implications for law enforcement and the legal system. These are discussed through a review of relevant legal cases and the latest empirical evidence.
This paper is structured in three sections. The first examines the scientific techniques and how they have been applied in police investigations, drawing on a number of recent cases to illustrate them. The second considers empirical research evaluating DNA evidence and databases and the impact DNA has on investigative and court outcomes. The final section discusses significant cases that establish legal precedent relating to DNA evidence in criminal trials where significant issues have arisen or new techniques have been applied that have not yet been widely discussed in the literature. The paper concludes by reflecting on implications for policy and practice.