DNA Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of DNA, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is DNA?

n. Deoxyribonucleic acid, which is a chromosomal double chain that exists in the nucleus of each living cell. DNA determines an individual’s hereditary characteristics and can be used to distinguish and identify an individual from another person. This becomes critical when blood, hair, skin, or any other part of the body is used to prove one’s involvement, or lack of involvement, in a crime scene. DNA tests have been used to release a convicted killer on death row who did not commit a crime, but debate continues over whether DNA evidence is scientifically certain enough to be admitted in trials. The current trend is to allow admission.

History and Definition of DNA

Deoxyribonucleic acid, commonly known as DNA, is a long, double-stranded chain of molecules found in the nucleus of every cell in a living organism. The discovery of DNA can be traced back to the 19th century when scientists first began to explore the nature of heredity. In 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick published their famous paper describing the structure of DNA, which is now recognized as the famous double helix.

DNA is responsible for carrying the genetic information that determines individual traits such as eye color, hair color, and height, among others. Additionally, DNA can be used as evidence in legal cases to identify suspects, victims, and exonerate the wrongfully convicted.

Examples of DNA

  1. The forensic team used DNA evidence collected at the crime scene to identify the suspect.
  2. The mother and child share the same DNA, confirming their biological relationship.
  3. The genome project aims to map the entire DNA sequence of the human genome.
  4. A geneticist can analyze a person's DNA to assess their risk of developing certain diseases.
  5. A paternity test is a DNA test conducted to determine the biological father of a child.

Legal Terms Similar to DNA

  1. Forensic evidence - Physical evidence that is collected, analyzed, and presented in a court of law to aid in the investigation of crimes.
  2. Criminal profiling - A process used by law enforcement to identify key traits of a suspect based on evidence collected from a crime scene.
  3. Chain of custody - A documentation process used to track the movement and possession of physical evidence from the time it is collected until it is presented in a courtroom.