CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Mass. Reconsiders Ban on Hunting for Suspects Using Kin DNA

From The Massachusetts State Police crime laboratory is considering expanding the use of its DNA database to search for close relatives of suspects whose DNA is recovered from crime scenes, a controversial crime-fighting technique that prosecutors say would help them solve more cases but that critics say would target innocent people, many of them members of minority groups.

Currently, the lab takes DNA found at crime scenes and compares it with DNA samples from convicted felons in hope of finding a perfect match and a suspect. The lab does not permit employees to seek or report close matches, which could give investigators an important lead by indicating the suspect may be related to a felon in the database, according to officials at the state's Executive Office of Public Safety.

But Mary Kate McGilvray, the new acting director of the lab, recently told the annual meeting of state prosecutors that the lab was reconsidering the ban. The possible change, which reflects an emerging national trend, is part of a private $267,000 review prompted by the suspension in January of the civilian database administrator, Robert E. Pino, partly for allegedly violating a ban on so-called familial searches. He was fired Friday.

McGilvray and other public safety officials declined to say why there were considering lifting the ban on familial searches or how the reassessment related to the Jan. 11 suspension of Pino.

McGilvray also met last month with district attorneys to discuss the possibility of allowing familial DNA searching, according to Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley, who welcomed the development.

"I think it has the capability of solving serious crimes and getting seriously dangerous individuals off the street and that it would be perhaps unconscionable not to go down this road," Conley said. "Science advances, and it's simply responsible on our part to follow any investigative leads."

But defense lawyers and civil libertarians condemn the idea, saying investigations resulting from partial DNA matches would inevitably cast suspicion on some law-abiding citizens

Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

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