On Friday, the National Commission on Forensic Science, which is weighing whether to authorize the method in New York, held a public meeting to hear testimony on both sides of the debate. Here are remarks from four people who shared their perspectives at the hearing. Their comments have been edited for length and clarity.
The criminal justice system has created a massive racial disparity in the way poor New Yorkers of color are policed and prosecuted. So logically their overrepresentation in the DNA database would be equally dramatic. Thus, the communities largely falling under investigation from familial searching would be those communities of color already disproportionately affected by the criminal justice system as it is.
This kind of hunch policing in communities of color used to go by the name stop and frisk. Eventually declared unconstitutional, stop and frisk had a devastating impact on communities of color and their relationships with law enforcement. Now instead of whatâs in your pockets, law enforcement wants to know whatâs in your DNA, all because a relative of yours was convicted of a past crime.
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â Brad Maurer, DNA specialist at the New York County Defender Services.
Helping Solve Crimes
It reliably can generate leads that enable law enforcement to identify the guilty. But the technique can also, importantly, help ensure that the innocent will not be wrongly charged, let alone subjected to prosecution, conviction or sentence. Why, weâve been asked in the past days, are we still pressing for familial DNA searching if an arrest has been made in the murder of Karina Vetrano? After all, it was the vicious killing of this young women that drew our attention to this modern tool of DNA technology and it moved us to press the commission to take up the issue.
We are grateful that with the arrest the Vetrano family may find some very small measure of comfort in knowing that a suspect has been apprehended. However, while the public can rest easier knowing the suspect is in custody, there are other horrible crimes that remain unsolved.
â Eric C. Rosenbaum, chief of the Queens District Attorneyâs DNA Prosecutions Unit
A New Class of Suspects
Familial searches take one entire class of citizens â the fathers, sons and brothers of convicted offenders â and turns them into suspects. We donât treat the fathers, sons and brothers of crime victims that way, we donât treat the fathers, sons and brothers of members of our military that way, we donât treat the fathers, sons and brothers of police officers or lab employees that way, and we donât treat the fathers, sons or brothers of missing persons that way, even though we have DNA databases for all those groups of people as well. And yet somehow proponents of familial searches believe that the state can single out the fathers, sons and brothers of convicted offenders for treatment as possible criminals. I disagree.
â Erin E. Murphy, New York University law professor and author of âInside the Cell: The Dark Side of Forensic DNA.â
In 2004, the United States Justice Department published a report that concluded that almost half of all prison inmates surveyed report having a close relative who had also been in prison. Usually it was a sibling, primarily a brother. Data such as this supports the belief in and bolsters the efficacy of familial searching to produce valuable leads. To date, when used successfully to identify a perpetrator, the courts have not ruled to suppress evidence based solely on familial searching. There is no scientific or legal reason to believe that familial searching cannot provide the same finding of evidence that the criminal justice system has relied upon using conventional DNA comparisons for decades.
â Emanuel Katranakis, deputy chief of forensic investigations, New York Police Department