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Pennsylvania University Researching Genetic Mugshots

In pop culture, mugshots are probably the ultimate hallmark of being arrested.  There are countless photo essays and even entire websites dedicated to mugshots.  Bad hair day mugshots; drug addicts deteriorating across mugshots; unflattering celebrity mugshots; glamorous celebrity mugshots; the list goes on.  (A young Frank Sinatra’s famous pout, forever captured in posters and prints around the world, comes immediately to mind.)  But now, breakthrough scientific research taking place at Pennsylvania University could be on track to changing the way we view mugshots and criminal offenders forever — literally.

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How Booking and Mugshots Work

Right now, here’s the way it goes.

A person is arrested for committing a crime, such as assault.  The arresting officer cuffs the individual, loads them into the police vehicle, and brings them to the local police station or Sheriff’s Office.  At this point they’ll be interviewed, and all of the necessary paperwork will be filled out.  After this is completed, they’ll be brought to the county jail for booking.

When the individual arrives at the county jail, they can’t be immediately integrated with the rest of the inmates.  First, the jail staff has to complete the intake process.

During the intake process, which can take several hours, a few different things happen. The arrested individual gets a digital record including their name, crime, and other important information.  They’ll be fingerprinted, searched, and given a medical screening. If they’ve been brought in for DUI, they’ll be given a breathalyzer test.

They’ll also take a “mugshot,” formally known as a booking photograph.  We’re all familiar with the famed mugshot format: facing front, profile view, the instantly recognizable plaque.

But what if mugshots didn’t have to be captured by a camera?  What if capturing an offender’s appearance wasn’t contingent on a shaky memory?  What if these images could be built?

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Image from Wikipedia

Using DNA Markers to Construct Genetic Mugshots

“Can you describe what he looked like?”

Instead of making drawings dependent on the notoriously unreliable powers of human memory, law enforcement may soon be able to work from computer-generated “mugshots” built out of DNA.  How soon?  “I believe that in five to 10 years’ time,” says imaging specialist Peter Claes, “we will be able to computationally predict a face.”  If Claes is right, composite sketches as we know them today may be rapidly going the way of the Dodo.

At Pennsylvania University, a team of researchers has discovered 20 genes with major links to different facial types.  In other words, specific genetic markers (i.e. DNA sequences which are used to identify chromosomes) can be linked to certain physical appearances. For example, one of the genes was linked to the form of the lips.  Another was tied to the how the eye sockets are shaped.

While further research is needed, experts predict that as this technology is perfected, it could be used in the future to generate offenders’ faces from DNA traces left at the scene of a crime, effectively creating an accurate, computerized mugshot in advance.

While computerized images are used today, they sometimes suffer from inaccuracy because they rely on the base of witness recollection.  In the next decade, the fruits of this research could close the troublesome gap between what we think we saw, and what we really saw.

Will the traditional process of taking mugshots die completely?  Probably not.  But as science continues to break through boundaries, the way we record and process criminal offenders will evolve in turn.

If you would like to arrange for a free and private legal consultation with an experienced New Jersey or Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney, contact the law offices of Young, Marr & Associates today.  You can also call us at (609) 755-3115 in New Jersey or (215) 701-6519 in Pennsylvania.







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Commonwealth v. "H" (DUI case)

Client was charged with three separate DUI cases calling for mandatory minimum imprisonment of 90 days on each case. Client was advised to seek immediate intensive alcohol counseling. Client was sentenced to 1 year of house arrest after serving 3 days in the county prison.


Commonwealth v. "C" (Felony drug/Firearms case)

Client was charged with felony Delivery of drugs and illegal gun possession and was facing a mandatory 3-6 year prison sentence in the State prison system. Client was sentenced to one year of house arrest.


Commonwealth v. "S"

Client was charged with simple assault, domestic. After a hearing where evidence and testimony was presented, the entire case was dismissed by Judge Leonard Brown.


State of New Jersey v. "H"

Charges for young man charged with second degree aggravated assault were downgraded to third degree and he was accepted into the County Pretrial Intervention program with charges to be dismissed and record expunged after one year of misconduct free behavior.


We have decades of experience dealing with local police departments, prosecutors, and judges throughout southeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Anyone facing charges involving a criminal offense can expect to experience a heightened degree of emotional turmoil, for themselves, as well as their family members. Our team of highly qualified criminal law attorneys and expert legal support staff are committed to providing each of our client’s with the compassion and understanding they deserve, as well as an aggressive plan for representation at an affordable price.

As former prosecutors, we have a balanced and in-depth understanding of the criminal justice system and how the prosecution prepares cases. In addition, we have long-standing experience dealing with local police departments, prosecutors and judges throughout southeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

At Young, Marr and Associates, when we say “experience matters,” we mean it. Our lawyers, which include two former prosecutors and a former senior deputy district attorney bring more than three decades of criminal law experience, handling more than 10,000 criminal cases. It is precisely that experience that allows us to achieve outstanding results for our clients facing DUI, traffic, felony and misdemeanor charges in state, federal and juvenile courts.