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Could prosecutors use your curiosity against you?

by | Nov 21, 2018 | Firm News

Surely, you have seen the commercials indicating that you could send in a DNA sample and find out about your family’s lineage. Your curiosity may get the best of you. After all, most people want to know where they came from, especially since most Americans have a mixture of different ancestry.

What began as an exploration into your heritage could become a ticking time bomb if you face criminal charges. Prosecutors have begun using this information to link people to crime scenes. The state of California already credits the capture of rape and murder suspects to using this genealogy information.

Is using this information a violation of your rights?

Many people are currently asking this question. Police are increasingly using one company in particular, GEDmatch, to analyze DNA samples. If enough of the genetic material exists in a sample, the company can analyze it. Ordinarily, the companies who conduct DNA testing for genealogy purposes require the consent of the individual. However, GEDmatch decided to allow law enforcement agencies to use their services beginning in May.

Providing this information to law enforcement remains controversial. Protecting the rights of individuals becomes problematic. While it is true that an allegedly positive DNA match does not automatically equate to guilt, juries tend to give a substantial amount of weight to this type of evidence, and everyone within the system knows it. Most of the people concerned about this use of genealogical DNA testing believe it to be a Constitutional issue.

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects individuals from unlawful searches and seizures. Does this constitute a violation of that right? The courts haven’t ruled on the issue. Some people say that it could only be used in serious cases, but how long would that last? It’s a slippery slope at best. If this works to catch murderers and rapists, will the government then attempt to say that searching homes without valid search warrants accomplishes the same objective?

It may be more than just a violation of your rights

What about your family members? Obtaining your DNA could lead to your family members as well. Now there may be a question regarding their Constitutional rights. Just how far should law enforcement agencies by allowed to go when it comes to DNA? At present, officials claim that once you provide your DNA to one of these companies, you give up your rights to privacy. That argument may work for now, but more than likely, society will insist that new laws protect it.

In the meantime, you may want to think twice about finding out more about your ancestors in order to protect yourself in the event you end up in police custody accused of a crime.