Editorial

National DNA register a boon in the crime fight

Friday, March 17, 2017    

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Word this week that the Government is acquiring equipment for the establishment of a national DNA register is most welcome.

Jamaica has been on a slow march towards the use of DNA in the fight against crime. Therefore, any measure to quicken that pace is indeed worthy of commendation.

According to National Security Minister Robert Montague, the Government is about to sign off on a US$146,000 purchase order for the equipment, which is expected to arrive in the island in approximately six weeks.

The Administration is also organising training to aid in the establishment of the DNA register.


Minister Montague was also reported as saying that by the time the equipment arrives in the island, the Parliament should have passed the accompanying regulations for the DNA Evidence Act “so that we can begin populating the DNA register”.

There is broad acceptance that this measure will enhance the ability of law enforcers to investigate crime, gather evidence, and successfully prosecute people who commit crimes.

We remain unapologetic in our view that it should be mandatory for suspects and convicted individuals to provide samples from which DNA can be extracted, especially given the low closure rate of criminal cases in Jamaica.

People who had opposed the DNA Evidence Act should by now be satisfied that the law outlines the protocol for collecting, retaining and preserving samples. It also stipulates the rules relating to the destruction of DNA profiles and outlines penalties for breaches of the Act, such as falsifying profiles, swapping samples or profiles with intent to deceive, and tampering with containers or packages bearing profile samples.

As we have argued in this space before, it is important that the State makes it clear that anyone harbouring intentions of corrupting the use of this technology should think very long and extremely hard about doing so. Therefore, legislators should not baulk at setting heavy fines, as high as $10 million, we suggest, and prison sentences for no fewer than 10 years for breaches.

Just as important is that scientists working at the Government forensics laboratory, as well as police forensic experts, should continue to ensure that the process by which they analyse and store samples can stand up to scrutiny. For that, we maintain, will contribute greatly to public trust in the system in much the same way as professional adherence to the provisions in the Act for the retention or destruction of samples.

But even as the Government acquires this equipment, the legislation is put in force, and scientists get to work on creating the DNA register while using the technology to solve cases, we hold that there needs to be a sustained public education campaign on the value of DNA evidence, especially for the fact that it can lead to wrongful convictions being overturned. Evidence of that benefit of the science is available in the United States and other jurisdictions.

Again, we state that it is not our view that DNA legislation will result in an immediate reduction in crime. What we strongly believe, though, is that the evidence — properly gathered and analysed — will assist our law enforcement agents to secure more successful prosecutions.

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