Commentary and Opinion

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Dr. Michael J. Spence Supports Governor Martinez Forensic DNA Initiatives

Dr. Michael J. Spence
In an interview with News New Mexico, Dr. Michael J. Spence (Spence Forensic Resources) offered his commentary on Governor Susana Martinez's initiative to expand the parameters of DNA collection in New Mexico. According to Spence, his organization, Spence Forensic Resources (SFR) is in complete agreement with Governor Martinez. He said, the proposed initiative represents a productive means of enhancing public safety and improving the criminal justice system. SFR is in favor of technological advancements in the effectiveness of criminal investigations. Some individuals have voiced their fears that forensic DNA data will somehow be misused. The basis for these fears is understandable, but misguided. The sophisticated technology utilized for DNA testing appears intimidating to most people-especially when it rests in the hands of faceless government employees.
Dr. Spence was able to break down this daunting technology during our interview into terms that can be digested by most average individuals-even those who desperately avoided their biology homework assignments. What follows are his observations and comments: "The scientific rational for SFR’s support of our Governor on the issue of expanded DNA testing is based on a basic understanding of a DNA profile. This is determined for a person during the forensic testing process. DNA data emerge from a series sophisticated forensic steps as nothing more than a collection of numerical pairs, such as 11,13 .... 8,9 .... 22,24, .... 12,12, etc. NONE of these numbers are genes or portions of genes. No, ....they are merely small fragments of DNA from areas within a person's genetic material. These areas are referred to as "junk DNA" or "non-coding DNA" regions. These parts of the human genome have nothing to do with determining physical characteristics such as height, hair color, eye color, racial characteristics, disease susceptibility, etc.
Some individuals have pointed out that forensic analysis samples STILL should not be in the hands of our government, any capacity. These samples include blood draws, oral swabs, and of course, evidence items from crime scenes. Some have expressed fear that such samples might find their way into the ‘wrong hands'. Consequently, a paranoia exists that unauthorized DNA experiments might be conducted on the samples. This sinsister activity would uncover medical/genetic information that was meant to be kept private. The above-described premise is monumentally ridiculous and vastly improbable. Forensic samples are collected, tracked, and documented by countless human beings. This process is called "chain of custody". Samples in the custody of law enforcement facilities are securly stored in a locked evidence vaults.
Irrational fears that biological material/DNA might be misused are outweighed by the benefits of expanding CODIS (the Combined DNA Indexing System). CODIS, our DNA database, represents an amazing investigative tool that has put dangerous people behind bars, prevented countless crimes, and saved countless lives. Jayann Sepich is correct. It is clear that expansion of the CODIS database will continue to solve even more crimes. SFR is a genuine proponent of improving law enforcement resources for criminal investigations. Of paramount importance, SFR objects emphatically to the plague of wrongful convictions across our country. Expansion of the CODIS database will assist in identifying the CORRECT perpetrators of crimes, …..and sometimes fuel the release INNOCENT individuals who have been incarcerated for a crime they did not commit. This, my friends, is the proper use of the power of DNA."
Conviction, a Tony Goldwyn film, will be released in U.S. theaters on October 15, 2010. The film tells the story of Ken Waters. In 1983, Ken was convicted of a homicide in Ayer, Massachusetts. His sister, Betty Anne Waters, was an unemployed single mother. The woman put herself through law school-earning an opportunity to fight for Ken’s life. After 18 years in prison, Ken was exonerated on June 19, 2001, a consequence of DNA testing. The film stars Sam Rockwell as Mr. Waters and Hilary Swank as Ms. Waters.