For the first time in history, San Diego police used familial DNA to catch a suspect in a criminal investigation. Criminal lawyer Peter M. Liss explains what this means and why it matters not just to potential criminals, but to society as a whole.
What is Familial DNA?
After a suspect is arrested for a felony charge, their DNA is taken and put in a state database. When DNA is uncovered in a criminal investigation, it is often ran against these samples to tie past felons to new crimes. In very rare cases, police may seek authorization to widen a search on the DNA database in order to identify persons who have a family relationship with the person who left the DNA at the crime scene.
San Diego Police Use Familial DNA to Catch a Suspect
In a recent case, a series of girls in North County were molested by a man who sneaked into their rooms while they were sleeping. Police found DNA evidence on a number of suspects. After they were unable to identify a suspect, San Diego police used familial DNA to search for a match, which resulted in a male relative of the DNA sample. From this connection, police were able to identify a suspect -Gilbert Andrew Chavarria. The suspect’s attorney will most likely argue that this is a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable search and seizure.
The Controversy of Using Familial DNA
Police, prosecutors and members of the general public argue that family DNA samples are a good way to find suspects in otherwise difficult (sometimes possibly impossible) to solve cases. Criminal attorneys, civil liberty defense groups and those concerned about a citizen’s right to privacy worry that every step towards a universal DNA database is one more step closer to eliminating the privacy of all citizens. This is why it is advisable not to give a DNA sample unless court ordered and why so many groups are fighting the San Diego police use of familial DNA.
The right to privacy is hard to balance with the obligation to solve crimes, but it is a critical constitutional issue that needs to be explored by police, prosecutors, judges and attorneys alike. If San Diego police use familial DNA to catch a criminal and the suspect’s DNA was captured illegally, a lawyer may be able to challenge the use of this evidence.
If you have any questions about your right to privacy and the police, please contact Peter M. Liss at (760) 643-4050.
Creative Commons Image by Micah Baldwin