In recent years, many states have made changes to the laws that govern their DNA collection policies. Most states require convicted felons and some misdemeanor offenders to submit a DNA profile to the federal DNA database called CODIS. After a person’s DNA profile is uploaded to CODIS, it remains there indefinitely so it can be compared to both new and old crimes involving DNA evidence. Offender DNA profiles are continually monitored and compared to new crime scene DNA evidence to make sure that a repeat offense does not occur.
However, the wheels of change have again begun to turn as the state of New York considers expanding how it uses forensic DNA evidence. The State now wants to include people whose DNA profiles are similar to a suspect’s DNA left at a crime scene, but is not an exact profile match. This new DNA comparative process is called “partial match testing,” where incomplete DNA can be compared to existing samples in the CODIS database to see if any parts of the strand match a current DNA record. Another proposed addition to the current DNA comparing system would be “familial matching,” in which a DNA sample is remarkably close to someone in CODIS, and therefore law enforcement could reasonably assume that their new suspect is a relative of an offender who’s DNA is already in CODIS, and could consequently locate the new suspect through those familial ties.
The New York Civil Liberties Union is concerned that this new proposed approach to criminal investigation could violate a person’s rights and cause them to be unjustly harassed or even imprisoned as a result of law enforcement agencies relying on such little evidence. However, John Caher, who is a representative from the State’s Division of Criminal Justice Services, stated that the new forensic DNA testing procedures would only be used to narrow down a list of suspects and not used to initially find a suspect. In addition to the civil liberties union, defense attorneys are also concerned with the possible changes. For example, one defense attorney, Laurie Shanks, was quoted as saying that “these new procedures would literally make people guilty by association.” She also stated that she feels once a suspect is put on trial DNA evidence is hard to challenge and that the jury often believes the accused is automatically guilty.
While no decisions have been made as of yet, New York State officials are looking at current laws while trying to determine what legal impact these new DNA comparison procedures could have, and whether the processes could be changed without changing legislation.