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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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