DNA in the Courtroom

If you are reading this blog, then we have to assume that at the very least, you have recognised that DNA profiling in a criminal context has fast become the most powerful criminal justice tool used in the world today and is increasingly vital to ensuring accuracy and fairness in the criminal justice system. The DNA Project certainly recognises this fact and in its national effort to create DNA awareness in SA, we have extended our awareness campaign beyond just the crime scene, to include awareness in our justice system. Without convictions, all the hard work at ground level may also be set to fail, because it is not used expeditiously in a case where it could potentially provide one of the strongest forms of evidence to link the suspect to the crime scene.

However, to ensure DNA’s optimum use in criminal proceedings, it is imperative that criminal justice litigators are properly conversant with the scientific basis and presentation of such evidence, as well as with its potential usefulness in criminal cases. As such, the DNA Project is hosting and funding the its first Legal workshop tomorrow for the Western Cape Branch of the NPA (National Prosecuting Authority). Over 60 prosecutors will be present as well as representatives from the Legal Aid Board and the Department of Justice. The aim of this course is to form a bridge between the science of DNA and the legal aspects of DNA evidence. It will provide criminal justice litigators with the necessary information not only to understand the significance of DNA evidence, but also to successfully adduce, recognize and if necessary, challenge the validity of such evidence in court.

Below is a brief outline of the issues which will be covered in the full day course:

Part One: Overview of DNA Profiling – Prof. Valerie Corfield

A single cigarette butt left at the scene of a robbery and murder has led to the conviction of a 24-year-old man

1.1 The science underlying DNA profiling — what does a profile look like, how does a DNA database work for criminal intelligence and the latest developments in this field.
1.2 Collection of samples for DNA Purposes: sample taking in terms of the current CPA and proposed sample taking in terms of the new Draft Bill
1.3 SAPS FSL Disclosure Policies

Part Two: The DNA Bill – Ms Vanessa Lynch

4.1 An overview of current legislation regulating DNA collection, analysis and use in the courtroom
4.2 An introduction to the draft DNA Bill and its impact on the way in which DNA profiles will be regulated in SA

Part Three: DNA in the Courtroom – Dr Andra le Roux Kemp
3.1 The significance of a Match and whether it ought to be challenged
3.2 Constitutionality of section 212
3.3 Evaluation of evidence: the possible grounds upon which challenges to the weight of DNA evidence can be made
3.4 Defense and prosecution fallacies

Part Four: Pre-trial Issues – Lt Col. Sharlene Otto
2.1 Interpreting the lab report
2.2 Meaning of a match
2.3 Important Questions to ask in preparation for trail

The presenters:

Professor Valerie Corfield,  BSc Hons Botany (Bristol, UK); MSc Cell Biology (Wright Sate University, USA); PhD Genetics (University of the Witwatersrand).Medical scientist, Department of Medical Biosciences, Stellenbosch University. Professor Corfield’s research focus is the molecular genetics of inherited heart disease. She has published extensively and is rated as a scientist with international recognition by the National Research Foundation, for which she serves on several committees. Now semi-retired from her academic position, she delivers lectures and develops and presents interactive workshops which engage the general public in a greater understanding of science and appreciation of its societal implications. Activities include DNA and its applications in forensics. She holds a Wellcome Trust International Engagement award in biomedicine and presents workshops for The DNA Project, the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement and Science Centres across South Africa.

Ms Vanessa Lynch BA (University of Kwa-Zulu Natal) LLB (UCT), Founder and Executive Director of the DNA Project. Ms. Lynch qualified as an attorney from UCT in 1993. She left her position as a Commercial attorney in 2005 in order to undertake the work of the DNA Project on a full-time basis and is now the Executive Director of this organisation. She founded the DNA Project following the brutal murder of her father in 2004 after seeking a way in which to meaningfully contribute towards the alleviation of crime in South Africa in a manner which was significant, achievable, tangible and would ultimately have a long term impact towards negating the high crime rate in S.A. An assessment of successful criminal justice systems all pointed to one obvious solution: the abatement of crime in other countries was ultimately achieved through the implementation and development of a National DNA Criminal Intelligence Database. In an effort to emulate this success in South Africa, she established a non-profit organisation to practically address the crime situation in South Africa through the expanded use of DNA evidence in conjunction with South Africa’s National DNA Database.

Dr Andra le Roux-Kemp
BA, LLB (Stell), CML (UNISA), LLD (Stell). Adv of the High Court of South Africa; Part-time lecturer at Stellenbosch University, Faculty of Law. Dr Andra le Roux-Kemp obtained the BA, LLB and LLD degrees from Stellenbosch University and a postgraduate certificate in Medicine and Law from UNISA. Her primary area of interest and expertise relate to particular themes in Criminal Justice and Medical- and Health Law. She has published both locally and is the author of the recently published book Law, Power and the Doctor-Patient Relationship: A Legal Perspective (2011). She is a member of the South African Medico-Legal Society (SAMLS) and the Criminological and Victimological Society of South Africa (CRIMSA) and teaches a LLM module in Legal Medicine annually at Stellenbosch University, Faculty of Law.

Lieutenant Colonel Sharlene Otto: CHIEF FORENSIC ANALYST and REPORTING OFFICER – Biology Unit of the Forensic Science Laboratory (SAPS, Cape Town) Lt Col. Otto has a B. Sc.-degree, with Botany and Zoology as majors from the UFS as well as  a Higher Teaching Diploma and has been attached to the Biology Unit of the Forensic Science Laboratory since November 1993.  Since that time she has received intensive training in serology and various DNA-technique, statistics, STR’s and has attended and presented at both national and international DNA conferences. Sharelene has been involved in the DNA analysis of biological evidentiary samples since 1996 and since November 1997 she has been involved in the STR-analysis of these samples. During October 2003. Lt Col. Otto takes part in both internal and external proficiency tests on a regular basis all of which have completed them all successfully.  In total, Lt Col. Otto has 25 years experience in the biological sciences and is one of South Africa’s most experienced and valuable DNA Forensic Experts.

The DNA Project has funded this DNA Awareness workshop with funds raised to promote DNA Awareness in SA. The DNA Project wishes to thank the Change a Life Trust and Juta for their kind sponsorship towards this workshop.

For more information contact info@dnaproject.co.za

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