Thanks to developments in forensic technology, cold cases now have a much greater chance of being solved than they ever did previously. Cold cases are crimes that haven’t been solved or actively investigated recently, but that are still on the books in case new information emerges. Just 20 years ago, DNA technology was in its infancy, and it wasn’t until the early 90s that ballistics analysis began to be used in solving crimes. Now, the advances in these techniques mean that more cold cases are being reviewed, and there is a greater chance that perpetrators of cold crimes will be brought to justice. So just how much of an impact can forensic technology have on solving cold crimes?
What is forensic technology?
Forensic technology is a broad term describing policing methods that make use of scientific developments including DNA technology, ballistics, advanced fingerprinting techniques and toxicology. These technologies mean that evidence from unsolved crimes can be reviewed, and in some cases, the results can shed new light on cases.
DNA – the key technology
DNA testing is a technique that is being used to help solve cold cases across the world. The use of DNA technology in cold cases means that evidence can be re-examined and DNA and other indicators can be obtained that can lead to the identity of the murderer being confirmed, or help someone who was wrongly convicted have their conviction overturned.
With DNA testing, a sample of a murderer’s DNA can be found on clothing or other items from the crime scene. The DNA can be tested and compared to that of suspects or criminals who are already incarcerated or who have their DNA details in the system. If a match is found, this can provide enough evidence to bring the accused to court and potentially convict them.
DNA testing can also be used to prove innocence, and allow people who have been wrongly convicted of a serious crime and imprisoned to be released. If DNA from the crime scene doesn’t match the person who was convicted, this can often be enough evidence for them to successfully conduct an appeal, particularly in cases where there is a match between the DNA found and someone else.
The Innocence Project is a worldwide organisation that is committed to using DNA evidence to exonerate wrongly convicted criminals. The Innocence Project has had a great deal of success in the US, with 311 exonerations to date. There are also a number of Innocence Project groups operating in Australia.
There are limitations with DNA technology and other forensic techniques, however. There is still a lot that isn’t understood about DNA, and although it can be presented as irrefutable evidence by both sides in court proceedings, this is not necessarily the case.
DNA analysis can be inhibited by outside contaminants and by having too much or insufficient DNA to give a clear result. DNA matching is generally done on a basis of probability, and it is not an exact science. It is possible to exclude someone as a result of DNA testing, but concluding that someone is guilty is more difficult.
Although DNA testing and other forensic technologies have encouraging implications for cold cases and current crimes, it is important to be aware that there is still a margin for error. In the future as technologies develop and we learn more about DNA and how it works, it is likely that forensic technology will become more accurate and reliable.