New York and Partial DNA Use

A NY Times article, New Rule Allows Use of Partial DNA Matches, reports that this spring New York authorities will implement partial DNA matching to identify potential suspects. The practice, approved in December, could allow law enforcement officers to pursue suspects if the DNA evidence closely resembles someone’s genetic code. If DNA evidence is found at a crime scene and is a close match to another person’s in the DNA database, authorities can use the partial match to see if the person who committed the crime is a relative of the close genetic match. The Gothamist states: “Under the old rules, police could only pursue a suspect using DNA found at a crime if the recovered DNA is an exact match with one of the 343,000 genetic profiles contained in a state database of convicts.” Law enforcement officers view this as a 21st Century weapon in fighting crime and see partial the DNA match as an effective tool because family members share genetic traits that would appear when the DNA is analyzed. The NYS DNA Databank became operational in 1999 and, according to the Division of Criminal Justice Services website (last updated 1/12/2009), is extensive:

The Times article discusses the reasons for and against this new policy. Proponents view partial DNA matching as giving officers one more piece of evidence to help them with unsolved crimes. The New York deputy secretary for public safety and the chairwoman of the Commission on Forensic Science, Denise E. O’Donnell said, “You could have a horrific crime – a serial rapist or killer – and you could have a clue in a lab that could identify the killer or rapist that we’re currently not allowed to use”. Opponents believe that the practice violates a person’s right to privacy and that the practice is overbroad and can lead to innocent people being treated as suspects.

The use of DNA profiles has led to the practice of issuing so-called John Doe warrants or no-name warrants getting around statute-of-limitation issues. See the FindLaw article DNA and Cold Cases: Indicting John Doe. This week, the California Supreme Court upheld the rape conviction of Paul Robinson, who was arrested one month after the expiration of the six-year statute of limitations. The justices, in a 5-2 decision, said an arrest warrant without Robinson’s name but with his DNA profile issued before the expiration is valid.