Why using genetic genealogy to solve crimes could pose problems

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“That means the police or law enforcement investigators are equally able, if they have enough DNA to create a sufficiently complete genetic sequence, to upload that to GEDmatch” to find potential suspects, says Ram, of the University of Baltimore School of Law.

Companies like 23andMe and Ancestry also require consent from the person the DNA belongs to before the companies will do testing. That’s, obviously, not possible with crime scene DNA. However, GEDmatch in May changed its terms of service “to explicitly embrace the use of their service by law enforcement,” Ram says.

Could these searches lead to people being investigated needlessly?

Before police tracked the Golden State Killer suspect through GEDmatch, investigators subpoenaed Family Tree DNA for information about a customer whose Y chromosome partially matched DNA from one of the crime scenes. Police then used that information to order a man in an Oregon nursing home to give a DNA sample. He was not a match.

“Just having DNA match something at the crime scene doesn’t mean the person committed the crime,” says Grady, who heads the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center’s Department of Bioethics in Bethesda, Md. “It just means that they were there, or something that they used was there.” Police still have to prove the suspect committed the crime.

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