Application of DNA Evidence in Criminal Justice System

Application of DNA Evidence in Criminal Justice System


Scientific and technological progress, coupled with evolving socio-economic norms, has introduced fresh challenges to the criminal justice system. As society and technology undergo transformations, crime rates have witnessed an upswing. Forensics plays a crucial role by offering scientifically substantiated evidence, contributing significantly to both criminal and civil investigations as well as legal proceedings.


The exploration of DNA, the fundamental biological code present in most organisms, represents a potent and debatable field of study—one of the many scientific tools furnished for forensic evidence examination. DNA analysis, often referred to as DNA profiling, scrutinizes DNA extracted from tangible evidence like saliva, hair, and sperm to establish potential links to DNA samples from specific individuals. In the realm of criminal prosecutions, DNA analysis has become a routine form of evidence. Its application extends to civil proceedings, especially in cases demanding determinations of parentage or identity.

DNA Forensics in the Indian Legal System

Section 53 of the 1973 Code of Criminal Procedure empowers a police officer, in good faith, to enlist the assistance of a medical professional for an inquiry. However, it does not grant the complainant the authority to gather blood, sperm, or other evidence to substantiate criminal charges against the suspect.

The Cr. P. C. (Amendment) Act of 2005 introduced two provisions allowing investigating officials, with the aid of a medical practitioner, to obtain DNA samples from both the suspect and the complainant. These clauses facilitate the medical examination of the rape suspect and the medical assessment of the rape victim, respectively. Nevertheless, the admissibility of such evidence remains contentious, with varying opinions from the Supreme Court and multiple high courts in different rulings. While judges acknowledge the scientific accuracy and conclusiveness of DNA testing, there are instances where they refrain from recognizing this evidence due to statutory or constitutional prohibitions and considerations of public policy. Urgent reconsideration of these sections and laws is essential, as neither the Indian Evidence Act of 1872 nor the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1973 address the intricacies of science and technology concerns.

The Evidential Significance of DNA in Indian Criminal and Civil Proceedings

A fair investigation is indispensable for dispensing complete justice, and scientific advancements play a pivotal role in fortifying the path to equitable justice. The integration of DNA technology into the Criminal Justice System (CJS) in India has had a transformative impact on the judicial landscape. DNA serves as a crucial component, offering scientifically grounded evidence beyond reasonable doubt in various criminal investigations, encompassing sexual assault, child abuse, murder, and civil cases like paternity or maternity disputes. DNA has also proven instrumental in re-examining unresolved and cold cases. In India, the inaugural use of DNA technology in court occurred in 1991, settling a paternity dispute in the case of Kunhiraman vs. Manoj (Shrivastava et al. 2016).

The Indian Evidence Act (IEA), enacted in 1872, governs the admissibility of evidence as a matter of fact. Although the concept of admissibility shifted with the introduction of the IEA, the act has remained largely unaltered, undergoing only sporadic amendments. Both civil and criminal courts administer the IEA, addressing both the type and aspects of evidence needed to adjudicate a legal dispute.

Section 45 of the IEA outlines expert opinion, designating individuals with specialized knowledge in foreign law, science, art, handwriting, or finger impressions as experts. Their opinions on relevant matters are deemed admissible. DNA technology seamlessly aligns with this section. In the case of Kunhiraman vs. Manoj, the court deemed the report of the DNA expert admissible under Section 45 of the IEA. Further elaboration on the court’s perspective is discussed later in this paper.

The Indian judiciary places reliance on oral testimony in line with the provisions of Section 60 of the IEA. Scientific evidence is generally considered corroborative or supportive and cannot solely constitute the basis for a conviction. In cases where a contradiction between eyewitness testimony and scientific evidence emerges, the court tends to favor the eyewitness.

The Integration of DNA Evidence in the Criminal Justice System

The utilization of DNA as evidence has significantly enhanced the dispensation of justice in both civil and criminal contexts. A landmark moment in the UK, involving an immigration case, marked the inaugural resolution of a civil dispute through DNA evidence. The Colin Pitchfork case exemplifies how DNA not only identified the perpetrator but also exonerated an innocent individual. Noteworthy cases like the Robert Melia case, the immigration case of a Ghanaian boy in the UK, and Andrew v. Florida, among others, underscore the pivotal role of DNA evidence in forensic genetics (Bureau of Justice Statistics 1991).

The admissibility of DNA reports in court rests on the foundational belief that they derive from the empirical knowledge that DNA constitutes a unique genetic code. The established fact that no two individuals share an identical DNA profile bolsters the credibility of DNA evidence. Genetic science advancements have left a profound impact on both society and the criminal justice system (Adhikary, 2007; Verma and Goswami, 2014). DNA evidence, heralded as the “new gold standard” in forensic science, emerges as a potent tool for accurately establishing a person’s identity (Lynch 2003).

Despite facing challenges in various countries (Butler 2015a, b), the introduction of DNA technology has revolutionized the judicial landscape. Technological strides have bolstered the credibility of DNA evidence, proving efficient in contributing to the administration of justice (Grubb 1993; Virkler and Lednev 2009; Verma and Goswami 2014). Legal debates and trials witness heightened discussions on the validity of evidence. Internationally recognized standards or protocols, such as the Frye test, Daubert test, prejudicial effect test, and usefulness standard, gauge the relevance and admissibility of scientific evidence. Validity, in this context, hinges on whether the evidence produces misleading or confusing impressions (Lynch and McNally 2003).

The admissibility of DNA evidence is contingent upon meticulous collection, packaging, and forwarding procedures to ensure the integrity of the chain of custody, coupled with adherence to good laboratory practices. An expert’s opinion’s credibility depends on factors like experience, qualifications, laboratory accreditation, and procedural adherence, which serve as vital components for quality control and management. This is imperative to thwart allegations of evidence tampering, wherein the benefit of doubt might lean towards the accused due to subpar scientific or analytical procedures. Within the legal and scientific realms, debates surround the possibilities of contamination, false inclusion or exclusion, and secondary and tertiary transfer of DNA (Patel et al., 2013; Gupta et al., 2016; Murphy, 2018).

The Indian Judiciary has embraced and relied upon DNA-based evidence for criminal investigation and identification. Literature reveals instances where DNA-based testing formed the basis for appeals in higher courts across various cases. The first forensic DNA test in India was conducted at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) in 1989, and subsequently, the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics (CDFD) was established in 1998, dedicated to forensic DNA testing in various civil and criminal cases.

International Jurisprudence on the Application of DNA Forensics in Criminal Trials

In the 1950s, Anna Anderson claimed to be Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia. Following her demise in the 1980s, DNA fingerprinting of tissue samples from a medical procedure held at a Charlottesville, Virginia, hospital refuted any connection to the Romanovs.

The first criminal application of genetic profiling occurred in 1986, when Richard Buckland, who admitted to rape and murder in Leicester, the birthplace of DNA testing, was acquitted. This marked the inaugural use of DNA fingerprinting in a criminal inquiry.

In 1987, genetic profiling was introduced in the prosecution of a man accused of engaging in illicit relations with a mentally challenged 14-year-old girl who bore his child. That same year, Tommy Lee Andrews in Florida became the first person in the USA to be convicted of raping a woman during a robbery using DNA evidence.

The first reversal of a verdict based on DNA evidence occurred in 1989 for Gary Dotson in Chicago. DNA testing was instrumental in confirming that Nazi physician Josef Mengele was cremated in Brazil as Wolfgang Gerhard in 1992.

Mark Alan Bogan’s homicide conviction in 1992 marked the first instance of introducing plant DNA in a criminal prosecution using samples from a palo verde plant. Kirk Bloodsworth, accused of murder and sentenced to death in 1993, had his sentence reversed thanks to DNA evidence.

The unsolved murder and rape of Mia Zapata, lead vocalist of The Gits, in 1993 found resolution in 2002 when the murderer’s DNA, recovered after an arrest, led to a conviction in Florida for robbery and domestic abuse.

In the contemporary world, DNA evidence significantly influences criminal investigations globally. Countries like the UK, Australia, and Kuwait, among others, consider DNA evidence a crucial component in determining the guilt of the accused.


The prominent advantage of employing DNA recognition in criminal cases lies in its ability to establish a clear link between a suspected individual and a crime, ultimately leading to the conviction and punishment of the perpetrator. This not only avoids the costly use of inefficient traditional investigative methods but also mitigates the risk of investigators targeting the wrong person in certain situations. The presence of DNA evidence can potentially influence offender behavior positively, encouraging admissions, discouraging attempts to evade DNA analysis, or providing a satisfactory explanation for a profile match. The increased likelihood of identification, particularly with the advancement of DNA profiling, may act as a deterrent, dissuading some offenders from committing further criminal acts.

However, the investigative power of DNA evidence raises concerns about potential pressures for collaboration in police investigations, undermining protections against self-incrimination. The application of DNA evidence involves intrusions into physical integrity and the examination of personal genetic data, some of which could be legally or illegally compelled. While privacy violations resulting from DNA sample processes and non-coding DNA analysis are relatively minimal, the expanded use of forensic evidence by law enforcement may usher in a significant shift in the entire landscape of criminal investigative practices.

Author: Avidi Vineela, a Student of Sri Padmavati Mahila Viswa Vidyalayam, Tirupati

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