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DNA is in the criminal justice headlines nearly every day: A prisoner on death row for a crime he didn’t commit is released; a defendant awaiting trial for rape is exonerated.

But if DNA’s capacity to exculpate makes for a compelling story, its ability to help cops solve crimes is reshaping law enforcement. After a push by Congress begun in 1994, every state is now collecting DNA from violent offenders, while the courts are batting away constitutional challenges to the practice. And last October, the Federal Bureau of Investigation unveiled a national database that links DNA information from the states, allowing authorities throughout the country to match traces of crime scene evidence to possible suspects.

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