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Are Police Illegally Using DNA Evidence In Criminal Investigations?


Police tracking down the “Golden State Killer” has been in the news headlines of late, not only because he turned out to be a former police officer, but also due to the methods used by detectives to break the case.

In the case, police officers reportedly used genetic data provided by the killer’s relatives to ultimately track down the killer, leaving many concerned about the potential civil rights violation implications of using this kind of information without first obtaining permission from those who submitted it. Should we be concerned about entering our data into genealogical websites like Ancestry.com and 23andMe, and subsequent privacy violations?

Using Genetic Information

Aside from individuals voluntarily submitting this information to websites like these, police will also typically collect DNA of unknown suspects at crime scenes and compare it to the government’s genetic database, known as “CODIS.” They can also use CODIS to run “familial searches” to identify biological relatives, and if they do not find any matches in CODIS, they reportedly turn to the private databases. This is possible because anyone convicted of felony has to provide a DNA sample so that they can be cross-checked while police are investigating unsolved crimes.

Ancestry Sites Served With Court Orders

More than 1.2 million people have sent their information onto 23andMe alone to learn about their genetics. Very few aware that police could potentially gain access to this information. Some criminal defense attorneys are now very concerned that this information could be used against people unknowingly in criminal investigations. While 23andMe has denied ever turning this information over—even when provided with a court order to do so—Ancestry.com admitted that it has done so when faced with a court order.

This is arguably a Fourth Amendment violation in the same way that police asking Google to turn over cell phone data arguably constitutes an unreasonable search and seizure. Just because more and more digital information about us is placed online every day does not mean that anyone has authorized the police to look through it. While, as of now, police cannot go through your actual cell phone without a warrant, this same issue will likely be litigated over DNA information, and how far police can go will be determined by the courts.

It is also concerning that prosecutors can use DNA test results via a scientific expert if they have targeted an individual whose DNA is similar, but not a perfect match.

New York & New Jersey Civil Rights & Criminal Defense Attorneys

If you are facing a criminal charge after a violation of your privacy rights, or that of a family member’s, contact our experienced criminal defense attorneys at the office of Phillip J. Murphy today. We serve clients throughout New Jersey and New York, and we have extensive experience protecting defendants’ rights.




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Phillip J. Murphy, Attorney At Law is located in New City, New York and serves clients in and around New York, New Jersey & Connecticut. Contact our experienced criminal defense law firm.
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