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Misuse of genetic research in application of genetics to forensic sciences

Ethical dilemmas in forensic science

Siegal (2012) has classified ethical dilemmas broadly into six categories.

Professional credentials

These include misrepresentation of the credentials before the court of law. Misrepresentations include educational degree attainment (e.g. claiming an unearned Ph.D. or a degree was earned from a particular institution when, in fact, it was not), professional licensures or certifications (e.g. falsely claiming certification as a forensic Pathologist from the American Board of Pathology or a common tactic of equating having attained actual certification with being board “eligible”), employment history and data about previous testimonies such as number of times, locations, etc. Most often this is done to impress the client, the judge or jury to ward off the challenges such as cross-examination by exaggerating the qualifications. Due to lack of resources and fact-checking methods, such exaggerations are seldom caught, and such acts are unethical and must be dissuaded.

Laboratory analytical procedures

Most laboratories have validated and well-established protocols to be followed during tests of analysis as well as recording these tests and their results. Laboratories place priority in the implementation of such protocols but, less than often, such protocols are not followed by the forensic scientist which is unethical. Unethical issues include making insufficient or indiscriminate analysis, and analysis to fit the written law. Sometimes forensic scientists report the results without even opening the containers; a practice known as ‘dry-labbing’. Results and conclusions offered by forensic scientists must be explicit and clear.

Interpretation of analytical data and presentation of testimony in a court of law

In the courtroom, forensic scientists face many ethical dilemmas while providing their testimonies. Ethical dilemmas associated with the interpretation of analytical data and presentation of testimony in a court of law may include bias on the part of forensic scientists, use of scientific jargons, use of confusing or deceptive testimonies, excessive equivocacy, and advocacy. Another issue with forensic laboratories is the way results and conclusions are reported. Some laboratories report minimal results without any useful or appropriate explanations. Also, many a time, the forensic scientist who performed the analysis is not even required to be present in the court for the testimony.