Use of DNA results is expanding

dna-swab.jpgBy Don Thompson – Associated Press |

SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Jerry Brown said Thursday he is changing state policy to expand the use of DNA results, a shift he said could rekindle some cases where other leads have gone cold.

Under current policy, the state notifies law enforcement agencies only when a DNA test shows a complete match with someone who is in the state’s criminal database. But investigators have said they want to know when the state finds even a partial match, which could indicate that a relative committed the crime.

Releasing partial matches raises privacy and due-process issues that have yet to be tested in the courts, Brown acknowledged in an interview with the Associated Press. Doing so has the potential to focus a criminal probe on an individual who did not commit the crime.

But he said there are protections built into the state Department of Justice’s new policy. It would be used rarely, only after extensive double-testing and when all other leads have been exhausted, he said.

“It’s a step forward in prosecuting very serious cases,” Brown told a meeting of the California District Attorneys Association conference, referring to the use of DNA analysis.

Later Thursday, he announced the policy shift in a bulletin to law enforcement agencies statewide.

California’s collection of 1 million DNA samples is the world’s third largest DNA database of criminal offenders, after the national databases in the United States and Great Britain. It will greatly expand next year, when DNA will be collected from anyone arrested for a crime, regardless of whether they are convicted.

The state’s database has produced more than 5,000 matches, when all DNA collected from a crime scene matches the 26 markers from a particular individual’s DNA.

Under the new policy, local law enforcement investigators also would be told when 15 or more of the 26 genetic markers match.

An additional test would then be performed on the DNA’s Y chromosome, a requirement that limits the tests only to males. A statistical analysis would be used to predict whether the suspect is likely to be a close relative – a brother, father, son or grandfather.

The policy permits using an even lower standard than 15 matches in cases such as serial killings or rapes in which investigators have exhausted other leads.

The name linked to the partial match would be revealed to investigators only if Brown’s office concludes they have no other clues. The number of such cases is likely to be quite limited.

The new California policy meets the standards for the release of partial DNA recommended last month by an FBI advisory group, Chief Assistant Attorney General Dane Gillete said in an interview.

Still, the policy is likely to face a legal challenge.

“This essentially expands the database to all family members who have a relative who may have been arrested sometime in the past,” said Michael Risher, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California.

The policy also raises questions of racial discrimination because blacks and Hispanics make up a disproportionate share of the DNA database, he said.

Defense attorneys challenge the statistical analysis Brown’s office uses to predict the degree of certainty of a DNA match. The analysis for a partial match is even more suspect, said Jennifer Friedman, forensic science coordinator with the Los Angeles County Public Defenders Office.

Matching as few as 15 of the 26 DNA markers “does not necessarily mean it is a relative. They may be going off on many, many false leads,” she said.