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State commission approves use of familial DNA searches

State commission approves use of familial DNA searches

For example, 11 states currently allow law enforcement to conduct what are known as familial DNA searches. This involves broadening a search when there is no exact match for the sample in the database to include any partial DNA matches of blood relatives.

To illustrate how this works, consider a scenario in which law enforcement collect a DNA sample at a crime scene that provides no match in the database, perhaps suggesting the absence of a criminal record.

Here, they could request a familial DNA search, which could bring up matches of relatives of the individual to whom the sample belongs. From there, law enforcement could narrow their focus to a particular family, either identifying or eliminating suspects.

While New York is not among the 11 states that currently permit familial DNA searches, this may soon change. That’s because the State Commission on Forensic Science voted 9-2 to allow law enforcement to begin using familial DNA searches last Friday.

Specifically, they called for the adoption of a new policy permitting these types of searches under the following conditions:

The case under investigation involves a threat to public safety, such as arson, kidnapping, rape, murder or terrorism
There is a direct connection to a particular suspect and all leads have gone cold
Approval for the familial DNA search is first provided by the New York State Police, Division of Criminal Justice Services, the local law enforcement agency and the local prosecutor’s office
The results are reviewed by the NYSP’s Forensic Investigation Center before being provided to the requesting department/officers
While the commission’s decision was lauded by prosecutors and police officials, it was roundly condemned by both civil liberties advocates and defense attorneys.

Specifically, they argue that familial DNA searches are the functional equivalent of a “genetic stop-and-frisk,” and that an issue of such importance should have been left to the legislature.

“Instead of delegating to the New York State Legislature for a complete debate on its use, the Commission on Forensic Science made a rushed, politically influenced decision that has the potential to criminalize innocent New Yorkers,” said an attorney with The Legal Aid Society.

It’s worth noting that the new rules on familial DNA searches will soon be open to public comment and are expected to take effect in the fall.

What are your thoughts?

If you are under investigation or have been charged with a serious felony, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional as soon as possible.

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