New York court halts family DNA searches for crime suspects

May 6, 2022, 1:41 AM | Updated: 1:51 pm

NEW YORK (AP) — A New York court halted the use of a DNA crimefighting tool that has helped crack cold cases and put murderers behind bars, but has also raised privacy and racial discrimination concerns, because state lawmakers never approved the practice.

Known as familial DNA searching, the technique allows law enforcement agencies to search the state’s DNA databank for close biological relatives of people who have left traces of genetic material at a crime scene.

A panel of judges on a mid-level appeals court ruled Thursday that regulations for the technique were invalid because a state committee implemented them without consent from the Legislature.

Three of the panel’s five members voted to suspend the searches, which were challenged by a group of Black men who worried they could be targeted for investigation because their biological brothers were convicted of crimes and had genetic information stored in the state’s DNA databank.

Judge Judith J. Gische, writing for the majority, noted that familial DNA searching is useful in investigating crimes — including in identifying serial killers in Kansas and California and a recent Bronx cold case arrest — and that the court’s decision to stop the practice was based on concerns about government separation of powers.

“We find that the overwhelming policy issues inherent in authorizing the use and limitations upon familial match searches of DNA information collected in the New York State databank warrants a conclusion that it is an inherently legislative function and that the challenged regulation cannot stand,” Gische wrote.

The ruling pertains only to the state’s DNA databank, which is populated with samples from people convicted of crimes in the state, not databanks that are maintained by private companies such as Ancestry and 23andMe for genetic genealogy research.

Regulations on searching the state databank were adopted in 2017 by New York’s Division of Criminal Justice Services, part of the state’s executive branch, and the independent Commission on Forensic Science.

New York has approved just 30 applications from law enforcement to conduct familial DNA searches since adopting the technique. It has disclosed the names of matches to police in 10 cases, two of which resulted in arrests.

Janine Kava, a spokesperson for the Division of Criminal Justice Services, said the agency was reviewing the decision to determine next steps. Those could include bringing the matter to the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals.

Authorities have, for decades, found suspects by matching crime scene evidence to convicted offenders’ DNA. Familial DNA testing comes into play when there’s no match. It looks instead for people similar enough to be closely related to whoever left the crime scene DNA. From there, investigators can look for family members who fit as suspects and, if they find one, pursue enough other evidence to bring charges.

The state legislature authorized the creation of the state’s DNA databank in 1994, but only allowed the collection and searching of samples from people convicted of crimes. In 2010, the state authorized the release of partial-match information to law enforcement, but not the technique of searching specifically for relatives of people in the databank.

Lawmakers debated further expanding the use of the databank over the years, but never passed legislation authorizing familial searches. That led the Division of Criminal Justice Services and the Commission on Forensic Science to take action on their own. The commission voted to allow familial DNA searches in murder, rape and some other cases, including times when it could help exonerate someone already convicted.

The Legal Aid Society, a non-profit organization representing indigent defendants in New York City, sued the state February 2018, arguing that the Division of Criminal Justice Services had no authority to unilaterally expand use of the DNA databank.

The suit raised concerns that innocent people could be ensnared in a criminal investigation “based solely on their genetic kinship with convicted individuals.”

The lawsuit, filed in conjunction with the law firm Gibson Dunn, contended that people of color faced a higher risk of being investigated through familial DNA searching because the majority of DNA information in the state’s databank is from people of color, and that the state did nothing to restrain police overreach or give recourse to people subject to suspicion less searches.

Jenny S. Cheung, supervising attorney of the Legal Aid Society’s DNA Unit, said the Division of Criminal Justice Services and the forensic science commission “acted well outside their purview and authority by unilaterally promulgating this far reaching policy, one that should have been left to the legislature to debate.”

“We laud this decision which affirms our serious constitutional, privacy and civil rights concerns around familial searching, a technique that disproportionately impacts Black and Latinx New Yorkers,” Cheung said.

__

Associated Press reporter Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.

__

Follow Michael Sisak on Twitter at twitter.com/mikesisak

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Eviation's "Alice", the world's first all-electric commuter airplane, takes off for its first fligh...
Associated Press

Prototype electric airplane takes first flight

A prototype, all-electric airplane took its first flight Tuesday morning in central Washington state.
17 hours ago
Officers set up crime tape outside a Chicago Police Department building in Homan Square, in Chicago...
Associated Press

Chicago police charge man who infiltrated SWAT training

CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago police filed eight felony counts Tuesday against a man who climbed five stories of a fire escape to infiltrate a police facility while officers were undergoing a SWAT training exercise. Donald Patrick, 47, of Waukegan was charged with five counts of aggravated assault on a peace officer and three counts of […]
17 hours ago
This GOES-East GeoCcolor satellite image taken at 4:26 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, and pro...
Associated Press

Hurricane Ian gets nasty quickly, turbocharged by warm water

Hurricane Ian is quickly gaining monstrous strength as it moves over oceans partly heated up by climate change, just like 30 other Atlantic tropical storms since 2017 that became much more powerful in less than a day. This turbocharging of storms is likely to become even more frequent as the world gets warmer, scientists say. […]
17 hours ago
This undated photo provided by the Nevada Department of Corrections shows Porfirio Duarte-Herrera, ...
Associated Press

Inmate serving life for fatal Vegas bombing escapes prison

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A 42-year-old convicted bombmaker serving life in prison for a deadly 2007 explosion outside a Las Vegas Strip resort has escaped from a Nevada state prison, officials said Tuesday. Officials realized Porfirio Duarte-Herrera was missing during a morning head count at Southern Desert Correctional Center near Las Vegas, and a state […]
17 hours ago
Associated Press

Judge green lights defamation lawsuit against Fox, Lou Dobbs

NEW YORK (AP) — A defamation lawsuit against Fox Corp., Fox News Network and Lou Dobbs can proceed toward trial, a judge ruled Monday after concluding that a Venezuelan businessman had made sufficient claims of being unfairly accused of trying to corrupt the 2020 U.S. presidential election to be permitted to gather more evidence. The […]
17 hours ago
Associated Press

Alabama prisoners refusing to work in 2nd day of protest

MONTGOMERY, Ala (AP) — Alabama inmates were in their second day of a work strike Tuesday, refusing to labor in prison kitchens, laundries and factories to protest conditions in the state’s overcrowded, understaffed lock-ups. Prisoners including those who provide food, laundry and janitorial services refused to show up for work at major state prisons, leaving […]
17 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.
...

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!
...

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
New York court halts family DNA searches for crime suspects