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Police are using DNA evidence in the Idaho case. Here are the potential pitfalls.

Last week, police announced they had arrested Bryan Kohberger in the brutal murders of four University of Idaho students. After a weekslong investigation, authorities zeroed in on Kohberger in part by comparing DNA found at the crime scene with DNA of a relative of Kohberger apparently obtained from the family’s home trash.

With only limited information available, it is far too early to judge the strength of the prosecution’s case. But the role DNA has already played has drawn renewed attention to broader issues around the uses and limits of this technology — and scientific evidence more generally — in the criminal legal system.

At its best, DNA testing can tell you whose genes were found in a particular location — but it can’t tell you how they got there.

The approach used to identify Kohberger is just one of several recent developments in DNA analysis that have transformed the way law enforcement investigates crimes. While these advancements present tremendous potential for law enforcement and criminal investigations, burgeoning new areas of forensic analysis also have shortcomings that underscore the need to proceed with caution and recognize that not all technological advancements are foolproof.

Over the past decade, recognition of the deep flaws in many common forensic techniques — like blood spatter, hair or bite mark analysis — has grown, even as pop culture continues to depict often-questionable forensic methods as infallible determinants of scientific truth.

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