In South Carolina, police released a sketch of a possible suspect in the murder of a young woman and her daughter. This sketch was not drawn by a sketch artist. Rather, it was generated by a computer using DNA found at a crime scene.
Investigators are increasingly able to determine physical characteristics based solely on Forensic DNA phenotyping, as it is referred to. They are currently able to determine eye and hair color fairly accurately using this method. Some believe that it will be possible to predict other characteristics such as skin color, freckling, and age as well. Eventually, computers might be able to match faces created from computers using DNA phenotyping. DNA phenotyping is done by looking for genetic variants associated with physical traits. This, however is a complex task, as many genetic variants may be associated with a trait – each contributing only a small percentage to make up that particular trait.
While the technology has a long way to go, and cannot guarantee accuracy in its results, DNA phenotyping has already proven useful in law enforcement. By reviewing DNA left at crime scenes, police have been able to actually change the course of an investigation. For example, a 2003 search for a serial killer in Louisiana initially was focused on a white male – based on eye-witness reports and psychological profiles. DNA testing, however, indicated that the persons ancestry was 85% sub-Saharan African – changing the course of the investigation. A black man was later convicted of the crimes.
The potential for this technology is widespread. Imagine finding DNA after a criminal assault or car burglary charge – police would be able to generate a complete profile without ever speaking to a witness, or reviewing any evidence. While the technology is far away, the more this methodology is refined the better ability officers would have to, if not identify the correct perpetrator, at least eliminate clearly innocent individuals.
DNA phenotyping does, however, create concerns. Generally speaking, they are as follows:
Many are skeptical of the accuracy of determining the facial appearance of an individual – as not enough is known about the relationship between genes and facial features. Since this technology is still in its infancy, the reliability of the composites provided by DNA phenotyping are uncertain.
- Potential for Increased racial profiling
This technology was developed by studying DNA and faces of people with mixed West African and European ancestry. Thus, the technology might not work as well in other areas. Additionally, the technology is better able to make faces that are African American.
- Invasion of privacy
Conventional DNA testing does not rely on individual character traits, other than sex. The use of this type of technology, however, does look at those particular traits. The question becomes – what traits, if any, are off limits?
While not likely to be fully implemented in the near future, DNA phenotyping is a fascinating technology that has the potential to both apprehend offenders, and exonerate the innocent.
If you have been arrested for criminal offense, you need experienced legal representation. Call the attorneys at the Rosenblum Law Firm for a free consultation at 888-815-3649.