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Justice

The dark side of DNA Add to ...

Catherine Arcabascio, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University, said in a recent scholarly article a chimera can potentially leave misleading DNA deposits at a crime scene.

"If he is a chimera, the DNA from his saliva could, in theory, differ from the DNA in his semen, skin, blood or some other sample left at the scene."

Mr. Federico criticized Canadian courts for working on a dangerous assumption that DNA tests are accurate, unless the defence can prove otherwise. "The DNA party is over," he said. "It should be the Crown that has an onus to show that testing has been authenticated."

And no matter how careful Canadian labs are, once they send a DNA profile outside our borders, anything can happen. Under an Interpol agreement involving 187 countries, Canada has honoured 481 such requests in recent years.

But Mr. Federico said he worries about substandard lab conditions or skulduggery by a foreign police force keen to close a case.

****

Phantom menace

The so-called Phantom of Heilbronn couldn't have been better named. After two years spent scouring the countryside for the presumed serial killer, German police discovered she didn't exist.

The bizarre tale began in 2007, when an individual's DNA profile began to show up at one crime scene after another. Eventually, 40 crimes - including 14 murders - were attributed to the Phantom.

Embarrassed analysts finally discovered that cottons swabs used by police at each crime scene to obtain DNA samples had been accidentally contaminated by a worker at the factory that made them. It was the worker's DNA that kept popping up, effectively linking the crimes.

Kirk Makin

******

FORENSIC SCIENCE

Since June 30, 2000 the National DNA Database (NDDB) has been banking DNA profiles from crime scenes and convicted offenders. How it works:

1. Collection.

DNA evidence is gathered from crime scenes and offenders

DNA IS COLLECTED FROM:

Offenders convicted of one of the 265 qualifying offences. Before 2008 there were only 59 qualifying offences.

Retroactive offenders serving sentences for serious offences committed before the DNA identification act came into effect.

METHOD:

Biological samples of blood, buccal cells (cells swabbed from the inside of the mouth) or six to eight hairs with the root attached are collected on a sample card along with the offenderís fingerprints.

2. Storage.

DNA profiles are loaded into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), a software package provided for free by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Justice.

SAMPLES RECEIVED TO DATE: 171,003

BY PROVINCE:

B.C. / 18,984

Alberta / 17,655

Sask. / 7,790

Manitoba /9,261

Ontario / 76,031

Quebec / 29,525

N.B. / 2,375

N.S. / 4,276

PEI / 380

Nfld. / 2,524

Yukon / 307

NWT / 1,071

Nunavut / 824

BY OFFENDER TYPE:

Young offenders / 22,071

Military offenders / 42

Adult offenders / 148,890

The most prolific offender in the database has been linked to 47 crime scenes

TOTAL CURRENTLY RETAINED:

CONVICTED OFFENDERS INDEX (COI) 158,493

BY OFFENCE

More than one offence may be associated with a sample

Assault / 99,661

Break-and-enter / 23,967

Robbery / 23,019

Sexual offence / 31,253

Homicide / 5,622

Drugs / 4,804

Other* / 10,821

Data is cross- referenced

CRIME SCENE INDEX (CSI) 48,268

DURING THE 2008-09 THE NDDB RECEIVED MORE THAN 34,000 SAMPLES

Processing. Forensic labs prepare the biological samples for storage as DNA profiles.

600 to 700 samples per week go to the Offenders Index...

...the Crime Scene Index receives 80 to 100 samples a week

3. Cross-referencing.

New samples are compared against DNA profiles from other crime scenes to identify links. Each upload of different convicted DNA profiles yields an average of 25 or 30 matches.

TOTAL NUMBER OF MATCHES: 13,291

BY YEAR

'00-'01 / 25

'01-'02 / 227

'02-'03 / 560

'03-'04 / 1,242

'04-'05 / 1,312

'05-'06 / 2,323

'06-'07 / 2,313

'07-'08 / 2,300

'08-'09 / 2,989

4. Investigation.

Convicted offender identity information for matches is passed to investigators who will then determine whether charges should be laid.

TOTAL CASES ASSISTED: 206,467

Breaking and entering / 6,479

Sexual offence / 1,540

Robbery / 1,342

Assault / 806

Homicide / 730

Attempted murder / 279

Other / 327

*Other includes, but is not limited to: causing death or bodily harm by criminal negligence, failure to stop at the scene of an accident, kidnapping, hostage-taking, arson, fraud, counterfeiting, criminal organization, theft over $5,000, forgery, and intimidation.

TONIA COWAN/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

SOURCE: NATIONAL DNA DATABASE, RCMP, GRAPHIC NEWS

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