This article is written by Mustafa Khan of Integral University, Lucknow, an intern under Legal Vidhiya
In the contemporary legal landscape, DNA profiling technology emerges as a powerful tool with vast implications for the Indian legal system. This article delves into the intricacies of DNA profiling, exploring its applications, benefits, and challenges within the framework of Indian law. With a focus on the evolving landscape of forensic evidence, the article aims to provide insights into how DNA profiling technology can enhance criminal investigations, ensure justice, and contribute to the overall efficiency of the legal system.
DNA profiling, Forensic evidence, Legal implications, Criminal investigations, Indian legal system.
DNA profiling technology refers to the scientific method of analyzing specific DNA sequences to create a unique genetic profile for an individual. This technique, often referred to as DNA fingerprinting, has widespread applications in forensic investigations, establishing individual identity, determining familial relationships, and contributing to various scientific fields. In the Indian legal context, the scope of DNA profiling is intricately woven into criminal investigations, paternity disputes, and broader legal considerations, shaping the framework for its application.
In the dynamic realm of forensic science within the Indian legal system, DNA profiling technology represents a groundbreaking advancement that has transformative implications. This method, which meticulously decodes the unique genetic makeup of individuals, holds immense potential in enhancing the accuracy and efficiency of criminal investigations and legal proceedings. As we delve into the intricacies of DNA profiling and its scope within the Indian legal landscape, we uncover the scientific marvel that underpins its applications and the legal considerations that define its role in shaping justice. From protecting individual rights to contributing to the resolution of complex legal cases, DNA profiling emerges as a key player in the pursuit of truth and fairness within the Indian legal frameworkTop of Form
DNA Profiling: A Scientific Overview
DNA profiling, a scientific marvel often referred to as DNA fingerprinting, is a cornerstone in forensic investigations, delving into the unique characteristics of an individual’s deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). Beyond individual identification, it plays a crucial role in criminal investigations by scrutinizing suspects’ DNA profiles, aiding in assessing their potential involvement in a crime. The applications of DNA profiling extend far beyond criminal justice, finding utility in paternity testing, establishing familial relationships, and determining eligibility in immigration cases. Moreover, its impact transcends human boundaries, contributing to scientific endeavors in zoology, botany, and agriculture, unraveling insights into biodiversity and evolution. (1)
In essence, DNA profiling involves a meticulous analysis of specific DNA sequences, generating a unique genetic profile or fingerprint for each individual. This groundbreaking technology has revolutionized forensic science, offering a precise method for identifying individuals based on their genetic code. Beyond its role as a crime-solving tool, DNA profiling unravels the mysteries of our genetic tapestry, providing profound insights into individual identity, familial connections, and the intricate web of life itself.
Decoding the DNA Profiling Tapestry
The idea behind DNA profiling, also called DNA fingerprinting, is like a detailed scientific project with really important implications. Basically, a DNA test, or DNA profiling, is when they take a sample of DNA and process it in a lab to get important information. This process carefully looks for specific DNA sequences, acting like a map that not only shows where the sample comes from but also helps compare it to other samples. This cool technique was first introduced in 1984 by Sir Alec Jeffrey at the University of Leicester in England. He made it public, and since then, DNA testing has been a big deal in the scientific world.
So, the term “DNA fingerprint” is like a super reliable way of figuring out who someone is. Imagine it as a genius idea that Jeffrey and his buddies came up with in 1985. That year, they started using this cool forensic DNA thing in real cases in the UK, making it a big deal in the world of crime-solving (2). After that, the idea hopped across the pond, and by the late 1980s, labs in the US started using it, with the FBI joining the party in 1988. Now, this technique is a big deal in all sorts of cases, like crimes, divorces, and even things like adultery. Instead of just counting the lines on fingerprints, we focus on the tiny details of the patterns, making it a game-changer in how we figure out who’s who. Cool, right?
Okay, so the DNA profiling thing is quite a process. Picture this: first, we carefully get the DNA out and clean it up. Then, we chop it up using special enzymes, sort it by size using a technique called agarose gel electrophoresis, and transfer the bits to a nylon membrane in a process called Southern blotting. After that, we use a radioactive labeled probe to find the specific parts we’re interested in, and voila – we can see the DNA bands through autoradiography.
Now, here’s the cool part: Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA), the stuff that carries our genetic instructions, is like a unique blueprint present in all living things. Alec Jeffreys, a smarty from Leicester University, England, was the brains behind this DNA profiling technique. Forensic scientists use this modern gene-based method to inspect human DNA from stuff like saliva, skin, hair, blood, and even sperm. It not only helps identify who someone is but also gives us insights into their personality, behaviors, and any hereditary illnesses they might have. How cool is that? (3)
As we unravel the intricate threads of DNA profiling, it becomes clear that it’s more than just an identification tool. It’s a key, unlocking the secrets encrypted in our genetic heritage. From understanding individual identity to delving into familial connections and the complexities of life itself, DNA profiling stands as a remarkable scientific innovation with far-reaching implications.
Legal Framework for DNA Profiling in India
In India, the legal framework for DNA profiling is built into the constitution, protecting people’s rights. Article 20(3) shields individuals from self-incrimination, ensuring they can’t be forced to testify against themselves (4). This rule is vital when applying DNA profiling technology, requiring adherence to Article 20(3) and Article 21 standards. Article 21 strengthens the right to life and personal liberty, preventing unauthorized intrusion. When using DNA profiling in India, it must pass the constitutional test and align with the golden triangle rule from the Maneka Gandhi case (5). This rule emphasizes the importance of Articles 14, 19, and 21 in protecting personal liberties within the legal system. Consider a situation where an individual, referred to as A, faces serious criminal accusations. In this scenario, the court decides to order a DNA test for A without obtaining their agreement, arguing that it is necessary for public interest. Now, envision A challenging this decision, asserting that it violates their right to privacy under Article 21. The court is then tasked with a delicate balancing act, weighing the need for evidence against the imperative of protecting A’s fundamental rights in this legal conundrum.
In the legal context, the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) significantly influences DNA profiling in criminal investigations. Sections 53 and 53-A of the CrPC establish the statutory basis for DNA profiling. Section 53(1) empowers the police to request DNA profiling of the accused, with Section 53-A specifically addressing DNA profiling for those accused of rape (6). Importantly, these provisions operate within constitutional bounds, respecting the prohibition under Article 20(3) as DNA profiling under the CrPC doesn’t force self-incrimination. Complementing the CrPC, the Indian Evidence Act of 1872 contributes to the legal framework around DNA profiling. Sections 45-51 of the Evidence Act make expert opinions on DNA profiling admissible in courts. The Act defines an expert as an individual with specialized knowledge or skills, acknowledging the necessity of scientific expertise in certain inquiries like DNA testing, beyond common knowledge. Imagine a situation where, during a criminal investigation, the police insist that an individual, B, provides DNA samples without their consent, citing the precedent set by the State of Bombay v. Kathi Kalu Oghad case. Now, envision B resisting this demand, contending that it infringes upon their rights under Article 20(3). The court is confronted with a delicate situation, tasked with balancing the necessity of evidence against the paramount goal of safeguarding individual rights in this complex legal scenario.
While the CrPC and Evidence Act confer statutory recognition and admissibility to DNA profiling in Indian courts, there exists a notable gap in providing a comprehensive regulatory framework. The current legal landscape acknowledges the importance of DNA profiling but invites further exploration and refinement to ensure a robust and comprehensive regulatory structure for this evolving technology within the Indian legal system.
DNA Evidence: Admissibility
DNA evidence, particularly through the powerful tool of DNA profiling, stands as a formidable method for individual identification, making significant strides in the realm of justice. It transcends mere deduction, offering a lens of clear discernment with implications that extend to the exoneration of factually innocent individuals. The legal standing of DNA evidence in India has indeed been underscored by notable judgments. In the case of Sharda v. Dharmpal (2003) 4 SCC 493 (7), it was held that a matrimonial court has the power to direct a person to undergo DNA tests, and such a direction does not violate the personal liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. This case emphasized the need for quality control in DNA testing and the importance of establishing a strong prima facie case to rebut the presumption of legitimacy under Section 112 of the Indian Evidence Act. In the case of Surendra Koli v. State of Uttar Pradesh(2011) 4 SCC 80 (8), the Supreme Court recognized the increasing importance of DNA evidence in criminal trials. The court highlighted the need for quality control and quality assurance procedures in DNA testing laboratories and acknowledged the role of DNA testing in corroborating other evidence in establishing the guilt of an accused.
DNA evidence has become increasingly pivotal in courtrooms, as exemplified by Mukesh v. State (NCT of Delhi) (9). However, India lacks specific regulations on DNA profiling and forensics. Though the Code of Criminal Procedure and Indian Evidence Act mention medical and technological aspects, their ambiguity leads to judicial discretion in approving or refusing DNA tests. This creates uncertainty, as seen in Nandlal Wasudeo Badwaik v. Lata Nandlal Badwaik & Anr. (10) where judges held divergent opinions despite DNA’s undisputed accuracy. The Supreme Court’s preference for Section 45’s DNA testing over Section 112’s presumption further highlights the evolving legal landscape. While DNA boasts 100% accuracy, its admissibility depends on meticulous handling. India lacks specific legislation for investigating agencies and courts regarding DNA evidence. The 2005 amendment empowered officers to collect samples, but admissibility remains debated. The Indian Evidence Act, with Section 112 only addressing child paternity, falls short in encompassing contemporary scientific procedures like DNA testing. This significance, crucial in criminal, civil, and maintenance cases, underscores the need for a more comprehensive framework.
In conclusion, despite DNA’s immense potential for accuracy and reliability, India’s legal framework requires a clearer and more comprehensive regulatory framework. The evolving nature of forensic science demands a proactive approach to equip the judicial system in handling the intricacies of DNA profiling for greater justice.
The DNA Profiling Bill, 2019
The journey of the DNA Technology (Use & Application) Regulation Bill has been marked by twists and turns, reflecting the intricate interplay of legislative processes and concerns over privacy and misuse of technology. Initially cleared by the Union Cabinet in 2018, the bill faced hurdles and lapsed after the dissolution of the 16th Lok Sabha at the end of the same year. With the dawn of the 17th Lok Sabha in 2019, the bill re-emerged, finding itself under the scrutiny of the Standing Committee of the Rajya Sabha. (11) However, recent developments have taken an unexpected turn as the Modi government withdrew the DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill 2019 from the Lok Sabha. The government attributed this withdrawal to the comprehensive coverage of the bill’s clauses in The Criminal Procedure (Identification) Act 2022, recently notified by the Ministry of Home Affairs. Nonetheless, this decision sparked controversy, with senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh suggesting that the withdrawal aimed to sidestep the elaborate safeguards proposed by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science & Technology, Environment & Forests.
The essence of the DNA Technology Regulation Bill was to establish a legal framework for collecting and banking DNA samples, crucial for identity verification in both criminal investigations and civil matters such as paternity suits. The envisaged ‘National DNA Data Bank’ and ‘Regional DNA Data Banks’ were designed to compile data from various sources, including crime scenes, suspects, undertrials, relatives of missing persons, and unidentified deceased individuals. Central to the bill’s provisions was the establishment of a ‘DNA Regulatory Board’ tasked with overseeing DNA data banks and laboratories. The Standing Committee’s recommendations emphasized the need for this statutory board to be independent, protecting the privacy of individuals whose data would be collected and holding authorities accountable for any misuse or data breaches.
The concerns raised by the parliamentary standing committee highlighted the potential misuse of DNA technology and its impact on various segments of society. The committee advocated for an ecosystem ensuring DNA profiling aligns with Supreme Court judgments and the Constitution. Emphasizing the need for a robust legal system, the committee underscored the scarcity of research and academic work on the use of scientific evidence in Indian courts. (12) Crucially, the committee recommended modifications to the bill, addressing concerns related to a ‘crime scene index,’ regional DNA data banks, consent procedures, and vague clauses. It urged the destruction of crime scene DNA data within 30 days of an acquittal, inclusion of the convict’s DNA profile in the data bank upon conviction, and safeguards against arbitrary DNA sample collection by magistrates.
As the legal and technological landscape continues to evolve, the nuanced considerations of the parliamentary standing committee shed light on the challenges of balancing advancements in DNA technology with safeguarding individual rights and privacy.
Applications in Criminal Investigations
DNA profiling is a pivotal tool in criminal investigations, revitalizing cold cases by analyzing crime scene evidence and comparing it with profiles in databases. It plays a crucial role in establishing identity in legal matters, including disputed paternity cases, immigration-related issues, and mass disaster victim identification.
However, the admissibility of DNA evidence in court relies on strict adherence to protocols and standards, considering aspects like chain of custody and testing reliability. Challenges persist in presenting this complex scientific evidence, despite its widespread acceptance. In criminal cases, DNA profiling aids in perpetrator identification and is vital for victim identification, especially in cases where victims are intentionally murdered to conceal the assailant’s identity. An illustrative case, Santosh Kumar Singh v State (13), emphasizes the importance of unadulterated DNA evidence in securing convictions. Despite confirming rape through DNA testing, evidence tampering and inadequate investigation led to the accused’s acquittal, highlighting the need for meticulous handling of DNA evidence.
This case underscores that courts must base judgments on a legal foundation, free from ethical or moral considerations. Tampering compromises justice and dilutes the authenticity of legal proceedings. The role of DNA profiling in criminal investigations is a double-edged sword – a potent instrument for justice when untarnished and a potential source of miscarriage when compromised.Top of Form
In the realm of justice and protection of fundamental rights, particularly the right to privacy (Article 21) and the right to self-incrimination (Article 20(3)) in the Indian Constitution, courts navigate a cautious path when admitting DNA evidence. The case of Govind Singh v. State of Madhya Pradesh (14) recognizes the balance between fundamental rights and public welfare, influencing decisions allowing the use of DNA technology as evidence. In State of Bombay v. Kathi Kalu Oghad and Anr. (15), the court held that compelling individuals to provide forensic evidence doesn’t violate Article 20(3). Similarly, in Rohit Shekhar v. N. D. Tiwari (16), the court ruled that collecting DNA samples for paternity suits doesn’t infringe fundamental rights, emphasizing confidentiality. However, the scenario becomes complex, as seen in Kamti Devi v. Poshi Ram 2001 SC 2226 (17), where the court rejected DNA evidence, citing Section 112 of the Evidence Act, despite claimed scientific accuracy.
India lacks specific DNA technology laws, contributing to a volatile legal stance with varying judicial interpretations. Beyond legal intricacies, the limitations of DNA profiling extend to challenges in protecting individual rights like privacy and self-incrimination. Courts sometimes reject DNA evidence due to concerns about collection, preservation, and documentation, amplified by the absence of explicit guidelines for investigating agencies and courts. Despite acknowledging the scientific accuracy of DNA testing, its admissibility hinges on legal, constitutional, and public policy considerations. The Rajiv Singh v. The State of Bihar (2015), 834 SC (18) case highlighted potential errors in the DNA procedure, echoing the need for scrutiny. The reliability of DNA profiling is supported by the scientific community, but concerns about laboratory procedures and expert competence remain subject to inquiry.
In essence, the legal and practical dimensions of DNA profiling in India underscore the need for a nuanced approach that respects fundamental rights, addresses legal uncertainties, and ensures the integrity of the scientific process in forensic analysis.
In concluding our exploration, the intricate dance between science and law surrounding DNA profiling unfolds as a captivating narrative. From decoding the genetic tapestry to navigating the constitutional maze, we’ve journeyed through the scientific marvel and legal intricacies of this forensic tool. Recapping our expedition, DNA profiling serves not only as a crime-solving marvel but also as a key to unlocking the mysteries within our genes. Constitutional safeguards, as enshrined in Articles 20(3) and 21, guide its application, while the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Evidence Act provide the regulatory framework.
However, the legal landscape yearns for a more cohesive quilt, and the proposed DNA Technology Bill seeks to weave that tapestry. Yet, concerns about privacy and potential misuse add complexity to the narrative. As we conclude, the takeaway is clear – DNA profiling is a potent ally, but its journey within the legal framework requires careful navigation. The future beckons for a more nuanced, comprehensive approach that upholds justice while safeguarding our fundamental rights. Let the legal odyssey continue!
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