08 February, 2011

How long can Investigations fail for lack of expertise

Its been a year since an innocent child, Naga Vaishnavi, was supposedly killed and body burnt in a furnace in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, India. This was a sensation in February 2010 and the then Government of Andhra Pradesh went all out to arrest the culprits and jail them. The Hon'ble Home Minister too promised a Fast Track Trial in the case. Recent news was that the possibility of the case ending on a better note is doubtful since the charred remains of a body recovered from the furnace could not be conclusively established by DNA experts as that of the deceased child Vaishnavi. This, if true, is really sad since DNA technology is available to identify victims even if their bodies have got burnt beyond recognition. Police in Surrey UK, have identified the charred remains found in a Surrey ravine in November 2010 as those of 34-year-old Tara Lynn Westgarde. It makes us only wonder that if they can do why can't we? Frankly we can do better but our system of Governance does not allow it to happen.

We can't help drawing comparisons between Aarushi case and this Naga Vaishnavi case since both cases suffer from a common reason and that is 'lack of expertise' on part of prosecution experts. The experts need to realise that their lack of interest in their profession and disinclination to upgrade their working knowledge to the latest developments in the DNA field hampers investigations and lead to dismissal of prosecution of a true case against an accused person. Such developments leads to two fold disadvantage to the society at large. Firstly a criminal gets scot free and a potential killer is let off with a license to commit more heinous crimes on innocents. Secondly the confidence of the relatives of the victims on the Criminal Justice System and law of the land gets eroded due to such closure of the case to the benefit of the accused. Worse can also happen when Police investigating a Crime case may not collect evidence due to their lack of confidence on the DNA experts to give a conclusive evidence.

The expert's duty should be beyond fear or favor. Their are lessons which we need to learn from the 9/11 attack in New York. The attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001 challenged the then current approaches to forensic DNA typing methods. The large number of victims and the extreme thermal and physical conditions of the site necessitated special approaches to the DNA-based identification. Because of these and many additional challenges, new procedures were created or modified from routine forensic protocols. This effort facilitated the identification of 1594 of the 2749 victims. I have always campaigned that in case we cannot develop something new, their is nothing wrong to adopt available technologies, after following due procedure, to reach to a conclusion. However the recent happenings so early this year of 2011 has made so called DNA experts to submit their less than helpful DNA reports without working much on polishing their DNA technologies to help the cases. This kind of approach on part of our DNA experts also points out to their lack of skills and expertise as otherwise a simple search of literature with such advanced technology being available in today's world with respect to searching and retrieving of information can solve so many problems. The DNA world today is boosted by statistical and technological advances such as DNA microarray sequencing, TFT biosensors, machine learning algorithms, in particular Bayesian networks, which provide an effective way of evidence organization and inference.

My call is that those experts processing such cases must consider the way in which to approach the analysis, and then carefully extract and organize samples accordingly, before they decide to give in their report which should benefit the Trier of Justice i.e., the Hon'ble Trial Court Judge. Yesterday it was Aarushi and today it is that of Naga Vaishnavi and tomorrow it could be of someone who is dear to any of us who may disappear from the memory of this World without getting due Justice. We should brace ourselves up so that this should not keep happening again and again and its time to rejuvenate the Forensic DNA System and we cannot allow such lack of expertise of the experts to hamper Criminal Case investigations.