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Genetic Witness

Science, Law, and Controversy in the Making of DNA Profiling

Jay D. Aronson

Publication Year: 2007

When DNA profiling was first introduced into the American legal system in 1987, it was heralded as a technology that would revolutionize law enforcement.Yet, this promise took ten turbulent years to be fulfilled. In Genetic Witness, Jay D. Aronson uncovers the dramatic early history of DNA profiling that has been obscured by the technique's recent success.

Published by: Rutgers University Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

As I am faced with the daunting task of thanking the individuals and institutions that have made this book possible, I am reminded of just how incredibly lucky I have been during the time that I conceived and carried out this project. Friends, family, and colleagues have supported me in ways both little and big along the way. At least in my humble opinion, a young scholar could not have asked for better...

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Chapter 1: Introduction

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pp. 1-6

For nearly a century, the law enforcement community has been searching for a forensic silver bullet—a foolproof technique that can identify absolutely the perpetrator of violent acts from the physical traces left at the crime scene and provide a tool for tracking and surveillance of past and future criminals. Throughout this history, various techniques have emerged as potential candidates, including finger-...

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Chapter 2: Science for Hire

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pp. 7-32

Alec Jeffreys, a geneticist at the University of Leicester in Britain, invented the first usable version of DNA profiling in 1984. After its debut in the British legal system in 1985, the technique rapidly spread to the United States. From the start, there was intense competition in the American DNA profiling market, with two biotechnology companies—Lifecodes Corporation and Cellmark Diagnostics—...

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Chapter 3: DNA on Trial

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pp. 33-55

The lack of an admissibility hearing changed for Lifecodes in the autumn of 1987, when twenty-four-year-old Tommie Lee Andrews was brought to trial for a rape in Orlando, Florida. He had been arrested prowling in a woman’s yard in the wee hours of the morning in the southeastern section of the city. She lived in a neighborhood that had seen almost two dozen instances of rape, breaking and entering,...

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Chapter 4: Challenging DNA

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pp. 56-88

By the end of 1988, the results of DNA profiling had been admitted as evidence without reservation or doubt in more than eighty trials across the country and had been used to obtain confessions of guilt in countless more. Judges were inclined to repeat the claims of prosecution witnesses verbatim in their decisions while dismissing the protestations of defense witnesses as being irrelevant to the issues at hand. The pros-...

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Chapter 5: Public Science

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pp. 89-119

By mid-1989, Lifecodes’ and Cellmark’s claims about the validity and reliability of their DNA evidence had been seriously challenged, although not totally undermined, by a nascent network of defense lawyers and academic scientists. Inadmissibility hearings in Castro, Schwartz, and other cases, defense experts argued with some success that the private companies’ DNA typing regimes were...

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Chapter 6: The DNA Wars

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pp. 120-145

The FBI’s success in gaining control of DNA profiling quickly attracted the attention of a few defense attorneys who were deeply skeptical that the bureau’s testing regime was any better than those of Lifecodes or Cellmark. Because the tactics used against the private labs—that is, making a strong distinction between forensic and nonforensic uses of the technique—achieved only limited...

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Chapter 7: The Debate in Washington

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pp. 146-172

While all participants in the debates over DNA evidence conceded that the FBI’s technical standards had clearly become dominant over Lifecodes’ and Cellmark’s by 1990, the fate of the bureau’s population genetics and statistical methods used to calculate the probability of a random match, as well as the social arrangements that it had created to ensure the validity and reliability of its evidence, were hotly...

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Chapter 8: The DNA Wars Are Over

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pp. 173-202

When Americans think about controversies over DNA evidence that have taken place in this country, Castro, Yee, and the National Research Council probably do not figure too heavily in our collective memory. Rather, visions of white Ford Broncos, bloody gloves that don’t fit, and footprints from “ugly-ass” Bruno Maglia shoes dominate our perceptions of the use of DNA in the criminal justice system....

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Chapter 9: The Legacy of History

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pp. 203-212

On 30 October 1998, a sixteen-year-old high-school student named Josiah Sutton and a friend were arrested by the Houston Police Department (HPD) for their involvement in the brutal kidnapping and rape of a local woman named Priscilla Stewart.1 The woman had been driving in her car a few days after the incident and recognized the two young men as they were walking down the street. When she...


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pp. 213-244


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pp. 245-258


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pp. 259-270

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About the Author

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pp. 271-272

Jay D. Aronson is an assistant professor of history at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

E-ISBN-13: 9780813543833
E-ISBN-10: 0813543835
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813541877
Print-ISBN-10: 0813541875

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 8 photographs
Publication Year: 2007

OCLC Number: 227208946
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Genetic Witness

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Subject Headings

  • DNA fingerprinting -- United States -- History.
  • DNA fingerprinting -- Great Britain -- History.
  • Forensic genetics -- Great Britain -- History.
  • Forensic genetics -- United States -- History.
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