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DNA Testing and Criminal Justice

Jonathan Barr was 15 years old when he and four other teenagers were accused of the gang rape-murder of a 14-year-old girl in Dixmoor in 1991. Interrogated for many hours without counsel or parents present, the defendants gave written statements. Although the DNA sample found on the girl’s body did not match the defendants’ samples, the prosecution proceeded. Two defendants pleaded guilty and three were convicted after trial. In 2011, post-conviction DNA testing of the specimen taken from the victim was conducted. The sample matched a DNA profile belonging to a violent multiple offender, who was living in the victim’s neighborhood at the time of the crime. Jonathan Barr was exonerated and released after serving 15 years of an 85-year sentence through the efforts of the Innocence Project.

What is DNA testing?

Molecular DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, holds the body’s genetic coding. This code or profile is unique to each individual unless the person is an identical twin. Located in every cell of the body, DNA can be taken from a variety of biological samples like sweat, blood, or urine and used to determine if the person providing the sample is the same person whose tissue was found at the crime scene.

Convictions and even arrests may trigger the collection of a DNA sample from the defendant

On the federal level, the DNA Fingerprint Act of 2005 authorizes, under specified circumstances, the collection of DNA samples from people who have been arrested or convicted, are facing criminal charges, are in custody or probation, or are under parole or supervised release.

 In Illinois, a person convicted of a felony or an offense requiring registration under the Sex Offender Registration Act must provide biological specimens. A defendant who has been arrested must provide specimens if the charge is for:

  • First-degree murder
  • Home invasion
  • Aggravated criminal sexual assault
  • Criminal sexual assault
  • Criminal child sexual assault

Where is the DNA information stored?

The Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) describes the Federal Bureau of Investigation program that supports DNA databases and the software that runs these criminal justice databases. The National DNA Index System (NDIS), as a part of CODIS, holds the DNA profiles provided by federal, state, and local forensic laboratories.

The Law Offices of Paul Chatzky has extensive experience with the Illinois criminal justice system and vigorously defends clients against misdemeanors and felonies.

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