So-called “touch DNA” may be able to link an alleged suspect to a crime scene.

A man in Jacksonville, Florida was accused of grand theft and organized fraud after touch DNA linked him to several crimes in 2013. Allegedly, the 71-year-old man scammed a woman who was taking cash out of an ATM. He showed the woman a folder that allegedly had cash in it and asked if she knew the location of the address on the front so he could return it. Just as she was about to speak, another man came along and indicated that he was familiar with the address. But he needed a ride to get there.

At this point, the second man was apparently able to convince the woman to take $6,000 out of her account, supposedly to show the man’s boss and earn a reward for returning the found money. The reward was to be $15,000. The three individuals climbed into the car and arrived at the address on the folder. The woman went into the store to speak to the employer about the found folder and her reward in returning it, only to discover that the two men were not employed there. No one knew anything about them. When she went back to her car, the two men and her money were gone.

The initial investigation uncovered very little evidence, but the Flagler County police had been taught to collect and store touch DNA. Use of the new forensic technique resulted in an arrest.
Touch DNA involves extracting skin cells from fingerprints. Proper collection requires a steady hand and careful preparation due to the size of the available sample.

The Flagler deputies were able to extract an identifiable sample of cells and determined the existence of a major contributor. The material was sent for analysis and entered into CODIS (Combined DNA Index System). It was matched to the 71-year-old man, whose DNA was on file as part of an extensive criminal record, including grand theft, robbery, money laundering and drug trafficking.

Use of the technology is still in preliminary stages, but it appears to have a high accuracy rate and a solid legal basis. Criminal defense lawyers are unlikely to object to it: touch DNA extraction does not involve taking samples directly from the alleged perpetrator, and a warrant is not needed to collect samples, which are taken from surfaces the person has already touched.
It remains to be seen how touch DNA technology will evolve over time. Each case will be different, and no one knows for sure how this new development will impact legal defense. No matter what changes come, everyone accused of a crime will still be entitled to a capable legal defense.


Tags: ATM CODIS DNA drug trafficking evidence Flagler County grand theft Index System


May 2014


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