Posted by: L | July 16, 2007

Police State Chronicles: Genetic Surveillance

Partial DNA Match for Nailing Criminals

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted May 25, 2007 in DNA and the Law

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prison 1If 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.

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  1. You have highlighted an additional issue in the problem of wrongful convictions.

    It is unfortunately true that many innocent people are convicted, sometimes by prosecutors who bend the law (often by hiding evidence) to gain those convictions.

    There is significant documentation of such improper convictions, in a series by the Chicago Tribune, in a study by Columbia Law School, in the book “In Spite of Innocence,” and in the marvelous work of Barry Scheck and his colleagues in the Innocence Project.

    It is a serious blemish on the American criminal justice system that too many prosecutors abuse their power, and get away with it.

    My second novel, “A Good Conviction,” tells the story of a young man wrongfully convicted in a high profile Central Park murder, brought about by a prosecutor who knew the defendant was actually innocent and hid the exculpatory evidence that would have led to a not guilty verdict.

    Several prosecutors and appeals attorneys helped me with the legal aspects of a Brady appeal in New York State, and all of them agreed that what I portrayed was both realistic and all too possible.

    Readers have found it to be fast paced, exciting, and heartbreaking.

    You can find “A Good Conviction” at page …

    I’d be curious as to your opinion of whether a novel based on truth can be effective in drawing attention to the terrible wrongs done to so many people by prosecutors who abuse their power.


  2. Didn’t see this post, sorry.

    I haven’t had time to do reviews – although a few are piling up. But yes, I am very interested in the subject .

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