Many cases went unsolved due to a lack of DNA analysis. Many offenders left DNA behind at scenes of crimes but there wasn’t the technology to translate that in to a match to the person who left the sample. Finally there was a breakthrough and technological advances developed the use of DNA analysis.
Since this time many ‘cold cases’ have been solved because of this development. So should we keep DNA evidence indefinitely in all cases to solve future cases? The European Court of Human Rights in Marper v UK said that the blanket retention of DNA sample was disproportionate and interfered with the right to a private life.
Chapter 1 of Part 1 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 makes provision in respect of the retention and destruction of fingerprints, footwear impressions and DNA samples and profiles taken in the course of a criminal investigation. In particular, it replaces the existing framework, set out in Part 5 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (“PACE”), whereby fingerprints and DNA profiles taken from a person arrested for, charged with or convicted of a recordable offence may be retained indefinitely. Under the new scheme provided for in this Chapter, the fingerprints and DNA profiles taken from persons arrested for or charged with a minor offence will be destroyed following either a decision not to charge or following acquittal.
In the case of persons charged with, but not convicted of, a serious offence, fingerprints and DNA profiles may be retained for three years, with a single two-year extension available on application by a chief officer of police to a District Judge (Magistrates’ Courts). This was to make it more proportionate to bring legislation in line with Marper. In summary DNA and fingerprint evidence can still be held indefinitely for adults for all offences if convicted. Indefinitely for under 18s for serious violent offences, sexual, burglary and terrorism offences (qualifying offences). Under 18s for minor offences they can be retained for 5 years (first offence) and indefinitely if it results in imprisonment for more than 5 years.
How about non-convictions? If you are arrested and charged for a qualifying offence the sample can be kept for 3 years (plus 2 possibly – see above). Minor offence 2 years retention. Possibly 3 years if you are arrested for a qualifying offence but NOT charged.
Is this proportionate? Have we gone too far or not far enough?