by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted May 25, 2007 in DNA and the Law
If a member of your family has committed a crime and been made to submit a DNA sample to CODIS, the FBI-run Combined DNA Index System, you’d better stay out of trouble yourself. Even if your DNA profile is not in the database, a partial match between a crime scene sample and your relative’s could still lead investigators to you.
Partial DNA match can also be used to exonerate wrongly convicted people. Darryl Hunt spent 19 years behind bars for rape and murder before a partial match was made to a felon named Anthony Brown. This match then led to Brown’s older brother, Willard.
Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey has been working to have every state in the U.S. approve partial DNA matches for investigating crime. Already common in the UK, the approach is called “familial DNA.” The practice has drawn media attention lately because critics believe it could be an invasion of privacy.
Stephen Mercer, a Maryland attorney, said in a 60 Minutes report – A Not So Perfect Match:
Now you’re subjecting a whole new class of innocent people to genetic surveillance by the government.
With this new technology, no one has ever considered, ‘Well, if my brother’s DNA ends up in the database, and he’s forfeited his privacy rights by becoming a convicted felon, has he also forfeited my privacy rights, as well, as a wholly innocent family member.” That puts me under lifelong genetic surveillance.
Should we be afraid of partial match even if we have never committed and have no intention of ever commiting a crime?
NB: You can also watch the video version of Lesley Stahl’s 60 Minutes report.