When DNA evidence is creatively used to solve a cold case on television, the police are praised as heroes. However, state police face fierce criticism for reportedly doing just that in New Jersey. The cause? In accordance with a July public records lawsuit, authorities connected the father of the kid to a 1996 sexual assault case using blood from the infant. About nine years ago, the DNA was first collected as part of a required genetic illness test.
The case, which was brought by the New Jersey Monitor and the Office of the Public Defender, describes the subpoena that law enforcement used to obtain the DNA sample from the lab and seeks to ascertain how widespread this practice is. Parents might not be aware that these samples will be kept, let alone that they might be utilized in this way, according to the lawsuit.
The New Jersey State Police made a careless public relations mistake by pursuing a subpoena rather than a warrant, either to avoid legal scrutiny by the courts or because it lacked probable cause to do so.
Civil libertarians and privacy advocates are alarmed, and with good reason. To say the least, it is new constitutional territory to get medical samples without prior notification for a criminal inquiry of a relative. Prosecutors and law enforcement must first earn the public’s trust and take steps to ensure that the practice is constrained, transparent, regulated, and subject to strict oversight. Then, depending on how things turn out, the public can decide whether to expand or restrict its use. Using old medical samples may hold great promise for solving cold cases.
The New Jersey State Police made a careless public relations mistake by pursuing a subpoena rather than a warrant, either to avoid legal scrutiny by the courts or because it lacked probable cause to do so. In addition, the Fourth Amendment, which safeguards people against arbitrary (warrantless) search and seizure, might have been broken.
There is little doubt that genetic genealogy and family history utilizing DNA have significant promise for improving public safety. As an illustration, the pap smear that was secretly collected from the father of the BTK serial murderer in Wichita, Kansas, provided the DNA evidence that was used to link him to the crime. However, the evidence was gathered through the use of a warrant that was issued by a judge after thorough consideration of privacy issues and the evidence led to the conclusion that there was probable cause. Through family tree analysis of DNA evidence, the Golden State Killer and the Grim Sleeper, two serial killers in California, were both connected. However, in both instances the evidence was gathered from a crime scene rather than through an unrelated medical procedure, and law enforcement first got consent.
The operation of the familial DNA searches is simple.
A suspect’s parents, siblings, and kids will all have around 50% of the same genetic fingerprints. Therefore, a 50% match gives investigators a strong lead because it almost probably suggests that the sample originated from a first-degree relative of the person who dropped the evidence. However, distant relatives, such as half-siblings, grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles, will share fewer of a suspect’s genetic markers. Here, the analysis becomes less accurate and can produce a significant number of partial matches, the majority of which are unrelated to the alleged offender.
DNA family history research has been cautiously conducted. In 2003, it was first used in the U.K. in two prominent death investigations, one of which included an elderly widow and was the brutal rape and murder. Family DNA analysis identified the culprits in both cases, who were subsequently found guilty. California authorized the limited use of the technique and Colorado were introduced in 2008.
state police face fierce criticism0 is currently taking cautious action under the watchful eye of federal government DNA analysis experts, while also being open to legal examination. state police face fierce criticism1 of the most serious crimes and subject to oversight by both the public and the courts, familial searching has avoided the type of police overreach that privacy advocates most fear. However, privacy advocates have been raising the alarm about the potential for familial searching to become a slippery slope.
Many members of the public already believe that we live in a surveillance state as a result of practices like stop-and-frisk, broken window enforcement, pervasive surveillance cameras, and the Patriot Act. There are legitimate worries, particularly low-income communities of color, who already deal with frequent uncomfortable interactions with the police, are most likely to be unfairly singled out by the use of new DNA searches. By stressing that we must weigh our reasonable expectations of privacy against the objectives of law enforcement and public safety, privacy advocates perform a critical role in society.
Many members of the public already believe that we live in a surveillance state as a result of practices like stop-and-frisk, broken window enforcement, pervasive surveillance cameras, and the Patriot Act.
We all expect and are entitled to bodily autonomy under the Constitution. It is, to put it mildly, offensive to think that when we seek medical care, our own cells and tissues could be used against us. A regular medical treatment moves further down a path that most citizens are frightened about, that they might be used against family members. The state police face fierce criticism2 complicates the New Jersey situation even further. Are we really shocked by the decline in popular confidence in the police as a result of this?
There may be a logical middle ground. But in order to identify it, these practices must first be made public. Then, forensic scientists, privacy advocates, legal professionals, and law enforcement, all of whom have a stake in the public’s safety, must participate in open hearings. Additionally, this would give elected officials time to hear from ordinary people.
We may create a set of guidelines and rules to control actions like those conducted by the New Jersey State Police, as is seen in other uses of family DNA. When all other investigative leads have been exhausted and there are privacy safeguards and guarantees against additional law enforcement snooping, it can be used only for the most urgent public safety reasons.
The alternative, if police continue to secretly evade public scrutiny, is that campaigners may persuade elected officials to establish laws that forbid the use of medical samples for investigation purposes or that mandate their complete destruction after medical testing are finished.
This would be a huge setback for medical research and put an end to the possibility of using these samples in the future for diagnostics and treatments. Simply put, the medical samples you have kept in storage might one day save your life. However, it is equally appropriate to request that they not be utilized against your will or in ways that your loved ones would be implicated. The general public should make the final decision over what happens to these samples.