The reliance on science in cracking criminal cases is widespread, and DNA is often viewed as the slam dunk in proving someone’s guilt or innocence in cases such as sex crimes. Usually, however, DNA used in investigations is limited to DNA that is directly related to the case in question. Denver’s district attorney is a passionate advocate for a growing use of familial DNA in case investigations.
What is familial DNA? Investigators have what is called a DNA database that they use when working on cases. If DNA is found at the scene of a crime, authorities run the DNA through their database in order to find a match and identify a suspect. Of course, not everyone’s DNA is in the database, so a couple of states have implemented the use of familial DNA to expand the database’s scope of power.
If DNA is found at a crime scene and does not match a sample in the database, the states of California and Colorado now search for close matches in the database. Similar DNA samples reflect a likely familial connection, which gives investigators a clue as to who the subject is by uncovering a family member who is already in the system.
Advocates for the use of familial DNA, such as Denver’s district attorney, believe they are using technology in combination with effective investigative work in order to best protect the public from criminal offenders. Also, they argue that the method helps save innocent people from faulty convictions.
Opponents of familial DNA insist that the method threatens citizens’ rights to privacy, and for underwhelming investigative success. According to studies, the use of familial DNA in the United Kingdom helps a case only about 10 percent of the time. Challengers of applying familial DNA use don’t believe the low success rate is worth the loss of privacy in the country.
How do you feel about the use of familial DNA in criminal investigations? Does it help Colorado or leave Coloradoans feeling as though they have fewer rights?
The New York Times: How Far Should the DNA Dragnet Go?