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Familial DNA testing may create criminal defense challenges


During the investigations of allegedly criminal matters Louisiana law enforcement officials collect DNA evidence that they attempt to match to DNA samples in a database so that they may learn the identities of the individuals they believe perpetrated the underlying crimes. There are problems with the current system of collecting and testing DNA; in some cases individuals are wrongly identified as the perpetrators of violent crimes when in fact they are completely innocent.

However, as in many other jurisdictions, the state presently has a backlog of cold cases that officials cannot close due in large part to their inability to match DNA evidence to individuals who have previously committed crimes. As a result, the Louisiana State Police Crime Lab is considering using familial DNA to retest cold case DNA samples and connect that evidence to individuals who may be related to the alleged criminal perpetrators of old alleged crimes.

This type of testing presents a host of criminal defense challenges, from possible infringements upon individuals' privacy to threats to individuals' right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures as guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The testing would allow the lab to not only look for a direct match between cold case DNA and DNA in the database but also indirect matches between cold case DNA and family members of the individual attached to that information.

Another potential concern about allowing the state lab to search familial DNA is that without established protocols on how and when the technology may be used, innocent individuals may find themselves involved in serious criminal matters to which they have nothing but remotely connected genetic data. Defending criminal cases is at present a challenge, and the introduction of new DNA testing technology could impose new and unique challenges on the defendants to Louisiana criminal cases.

Source: govtech.com, "Louisiana State Police Crime Lab Considers Controversial Familial DNA Tool," Jim Mustian, April 18, 2017

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