J. J. Baloch
Forensics, which stands for application of science to legal domain, claims to have reached the new frontiers of truth in sifting the grass of quilt from the grain of innocence during the process of criminal investigations. Phenol-typing helps not only to trace the suspects but also saves the innocent. We are still struggling to attain the stage of DNA profiling in Pakistan. Given the expansion, quality and complexity of police investigations as well as the magnitude, nature and extent of crime incidents in Pakistan, our policymakers should give a serious thought to investing and adopting this new, cost-effective and fool-proof technique of crime investigations.
This infant area of DNA Phenol-typing enables forensic lab technicians to generate a computer picture of the suspect through the speck of skin or fragment of hair collected from the scene of the crime. This technique is quite useful in reaching and identifying a suspect without his or her physical appearance and without any description of the eyewitnesses. Phenol-typing is in contrast with DNA profiling or fingerprinting which help find out the match of DNA sample markers, collected from the scene of the crime, with the known individuals.
It is, indeed, an investigative tool rather than a source of evidence that could be used in a trial. “When a suspect identified through phenol typing comes to court, conventional DNA fingerprinting will be used to show an exact match between their DNA and a sample from the crime scene.”
Leister University, UK, Crime Lab is said to have developed this technique of genetic fingerprinting which has led to the conviction of thousands of murderers, rapists and other offenders by linking their DNA to blood, semen, saliva and skin samples. This new technology examines “a special group of DNA sequences that vary enormously between individuals and are not related to physical appearance.” In Pakistan, medical universities should prioritise the crime medicines such as DNA forensic for assisting our police departments in the area of medico-legal evidence.
Not only our universities could do better if so directed and so financed to launch the projects on the lines of developed countries to facilitate their criminal justice institutions for building their capacity to keep peace and ensure justice for every Tom Dick and Harry but also private entrepreneurs may be encouraged to join hands of the law enforcement for the collective benefit of the society as well as for the profits of their companies as it is being done elsewhere. This is not something Greek to commercial companies worldwide to build their products on a large base of academic research into the genetic variations that make individuals look different. “The currency of this work is the Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP). Each SNP (pronounced “snip”) is a change in a single chemical “letter” within the three billion letters of the human genome, which leads to a difference in the individual’s characteristics — his or her phenotype. The effect of one SNP is usually small; the challenge through genetic studies is to construct a panel of many SNPs that collectively determine a feature such as an eye colour,” so claims Clive Cookson.
In terms of SNPs UK launched a huge project named “Twins UK” in 1992. Professor of Genetic Epidemiology, Tim Spector, at King’s College, London championed this project. This long-term study project included 12, 000 identical as well as non-identical twins produced ample data about genetic factors affecting health and appearance of the understudy twins in relation to the environment they were subjected. Professor Tim calls his Twin samples as “the most investigated people on the planet”. The professor goes on stating: “We know, for example, that eye colour is almost 100 percent heritable, while freckles and moles are 70 percent heritable. Most facial features such as earlobes and creases on the ears are heritable to a considerable extent.”
However, further research is expected to provide stronger links with facial shape and give an indication of age by tracking “epigenetic” changes in DNA as people grow older. “In the long run, phenol typing could transform the investigation of serious crimes in which the offender leaves a microscopic trace of his or her body fluids or tissues but DNA fingerprinting provides no match. It would be the equivalent of having a physical description from a perfectly reliable witness.”
Clive Cookson (2015) maintains: “In January 2011 Candara Alston and her three-year-old daughter Malaysia were murdered at home in Columbia, South Carolina. This month, on the fourth anniversary of the still-unsolved double homicide, Columbia Police put out an unusual picture profile of the suspect… A computer-generated image of a suspect in the Candara Alston murder case is believed to be the first image in forensic history published entirely on the basis of a DNA sample”.
On the contrary, Muhtarma Benazir Bhutto murder case exposed our investigation loopholes and grey areas. Had our police been able to make the proper use of DNA forensics, no actual culprit could have been gone scot-free nor yet would any innocent police officer have been either incriminated or convicted. The investigation and prosecution of this case have been a great eye-opener for all of us where we can’t ensure justice even to our own investigators who are supposed to ensure justice to the aggrieved family. But had this case been investigated employing the phenol-typing there would not have been such injustices to anyone. The country’s security landscape and the proxy war environment are suggestive to the fact that we should be alive to the fact of the likelihood of such incidents in future and hence be prepared not to repeat the sheer show of incompetence. Those who do not learn from history, they are sure to remain in history and are bound to become history.
Columbia and Toronto Police departments have begun to use this technique of investigation for including or eliminating suspects. The seasoned detectives who have long experience of dealing with forensic evidence seem to be very optimistic about the utility of this scientific discovery in establishing the truth of the cold-blooded and blind cases of murder, rape, and terrorism. In Pakistan, we do have dedicated and devoted police officers who may be encouraged and incentivised to embark upon building their capacities for delivering better public service.
In partnership with many police departments in UK, USA, Canada, Germany, China, and Australia, many companies are making investments and advertisements for the commercialization of this new technique of investigation which despite it’s being a tiny part of blood can storm police to reach bigger leads in tracing the culprits and in solving the cases with authenticity and perfection. Pakistan Police should learn and pick up before it is too late. Countries like Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, and Brazil have made remarkable advances in scientific investigations.
“When you have a couple of companies willing to take the time and spend the money developing products, it shows that the field is ready to move into practice,” says Jenifer Smith, a forensic science professor at Penn State University, who is embarking on a project to exploit next-generation DNA sequencing in criminal investigations.
“Ancestry particularly interests the police,” Many forensic companies now claim that they can tell police where the mother or father comes from or which racial origin a particular suspect hails from. In this way, the phenol-typing technology moves DNA to the forefront of the investigation, while DNA profiling has been the bread and butter of forensic companies in the past. However, many argue that if we can remove a large number of people from the investigation that saves a lot of time and resources. This is truer beyond any iota of doubt as the Phenol-typing can save the huge amounts otherwise spends of snapshots, each costing more than 5000 US dollars.
In Pakistan, we are in the initial stage of adopting the police technology for crime prevention and detection. Many police veterans have raised the voices to transform our archaic methods of investigations to the newer ones because providing the justice and peace to both the accused as well as the innocent is the prime contractual duty of our mother state. Therefore, it is prime time for us to go for scientification of our criminal investigation and criminal justice system by investing in public safety as well as justice delivery systems as the very legitimacy of our statehood hinges on its commitment and capacity to keep the promise of protecting the life, property, and liberty of the citizens of Pakistan.
For this end in view, we badly need to build research centres for crime sciences throughout our public as well as private educational centres so that we can be able to do away with our old-fashioned system of investigations and adjudications. For assigning priority to this clarion call, our policymakers should start with establishing a ministry for criminal justice policy with exclusive mandate to control crime, disorder, and injustices which are allegedly being provided by the very institutions of order and justice in our country. Such exclusive ministry should be autonomous and resourceful in making and enforcing its policies aimed at upholding the rule of law quite immune from political engineering and bureaucratic meddling and completely specified for specialized job of the core departments of criminal justice including police, prosecution, judiciary and prisons.
The departments of crime science should be staffed with qualified researchers who can collect data, analyse it, understand the crime patterns, trends, and series and comes up with their scientific and evidence-based policy solutions. Only establishing the forensic labs as having been done by our different police departments including Punjab Police, Sindh Police, KP Police, FIA, National Forensic Science Authority and the like without staffing them with well-qualified researchers and lab technicians will not do. The much-neglected part of all these newly established forensic establishments is the absence of proper DNA units with all resources and skilled staff. At our premier law enforcement training facility, National Police Academy, we are yet to find a well-qualified instructor for forensic medicine, what to talk of DNA profiling or DNA phenol-typing.
There is hardly any better welfare of the society, that the state is expected to guarantee, than the peace and justice which reads through each and every page of the supreme law of the land-the constitution.
The Writer is a Novelist and a Criminal Justice Analyst….