We think of DNA forensics as an infallible science that catches the bad guys and exonerates the innocent. But when the science goes rogue, it can lead to a gross miscarriage of justice. Erin Murphy exposes the dark side of forensic DNA testing: crime labs that receive little oversight and produce inconsistent results; prosecutors who push to test smaller and poorer-quality samples, inviting error and bias; law-enforcement officers who compile massive, unregulated, and racially skewed DNA databases; and industry lobbyists who push policies of "stop and spit."
DNA testing is rightly seen as a transformative technological breakthrough, but we should be wary of placing such a powerful weapon in the hands of the same broken criminal justice system that has produced mass incarceration, privileged government interests over personal privacy, and all too often enforced the law in a biased or unjust manner. Inside the Cell exposes the truth about forensic DNA, and shows us what it will take to harness the power of genetic identification in service of accuracy and fairness.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-10-19
- Reviewer: Staff
Law professor Murphy shows that forensic DNA testing is far from an infallible, incorruptible scientific process, despite its depiction in popular media. Indeed, she argues extreme caution against putting much faith in this technological achievement, which she calls "neither savior nor cure-all," even as judges, juries, and prosecutors increasingly rely on it. An introductory technical discussion of the basics of DNA testing serves as a useful baseline for the rest of the book, in which Murphy describes the pervasive issues that complicate the narrative of DNA as incontrovertible evidence. These issues are myriad, from the perhaps unsurprising risk of sample contamination to wholly appalling cases of outright fraud. Murphy discusses the implications of DNA testing on issues of privacy and racial disparities in the U.S. criminal justice system, especially in light of local, state, and national DNA databases; commercial uses of DNA testing; and law enforcement activities such as DNA dragnets. The book is full of cases and examples that propel Murphy's discussion forward and will no doubt unsettle the average citizen. Thankfully she also provides actionable recommendations for policy changes in a legal system that so far has little to say about the collection and uses of DNA. As Murphy says, "The technological and legal landscape are at the brink of a tectonic shift," and she encourages vigilance in the protection of our liberties. Agent: Sanford J. Greenburger Associates. (Oct.)