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Searching DNA For Relatives Raises Concerns 199

An anonymous reader calls our attention to California's familial searching policy, which looks for genetic ties between culprits and kin. The technique has come to the fore in the last few years, after a Colorado prosecutor pushed the FBI to relax its rules on cross-state searches. "Los Angeles Police Department investigators want to search the state's DNA database again — not for exact matches but for any profiles similar enough to belong to a parent or sibling. The hope is that one of those family members might lead detectives to the killer. This strategy, pioneered in Britain, is poised to become an important crime-fighting tool in the United States. The Los Angeles case will mark the first major use of California's newly approved familial searching policy, the most far-reaching in the nation."
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Searching DNA For Relatives Raises Concerns

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  • by circletimessquare ( 444983 ) <circletimessquare&gmail,com> on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @07:56PM (#25893663) Homepage Journal

    While performing the autopsy on Newlands' body, Warner finds a plastic tube of blood in his upper arm. He was the father of Morris' baby, but he wasn't the Honey Rapist. He put the tube with someone else's blood in his arm to beat the paternity test. Unfortunately for him, that someone else was a previously unidentified child rapist.;recap []

    apparently, like much of law and order, based on a real life case of a canadian doctor in 1992 implanting a blood tube in his arm to beat a dna test (and also the basis for a movie): [] []

    Rape case
    On the night of 31 October 1992, Schneeberger sedated his 23-year-old patient, Candice, and raped her. While Versed -- the anesthetic he used -- has strong amnesiac effect, Candice was still able to remember the rape. She reported the crime to the police.

    Schneeberger's blood sample was, however, found not to match the samples of the alleged rapist's semen, thus clearing him of suspicion. In 1993, at the victim's request, the test was repeated, but the result was negative, as well. In 1994, the case was closed.

    Candice, still convinced that her reminiscences were true, hired Larry O'Brien, a private detective, to investigate the case. He broke into Schneeberger's car and obtained another DNA sample, which, this time, matched the semen on victim's panties and pants. As a result, a third official test was organized. The obtained blood sample was, however, found to be too small and of too poor quality to be useful for analysis.

    In 1997, Lisa Schneeberger found out that her husband had repeatedly drugged and raped her 15-year-old daughter from her first marriage. She reported him to the police, which ordered a fourth DNA test. This time, multiple samples were taken: blood, mouth swab, and hair follicle. All three matched the rapist's semen.

    [edit] Conviction
    During his 1999 trial, Schneeberger revealed the method he used to foil the DNA tests. He implanted a 15 cm Penrose drain filled with another man's blood and anticoagulants in his arm. During tests, he tricked the laboratory technician to obtain blood sample from the place the tube was planted.

    He was found guilty of sexual assault, of administering a noxious substance, and of obstruction of justice, and received a six-year prison sentence.

  • by westlake ( 615356 ) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @08:23PM (#25893933)
    now that everybody knows about DNA evidence, what's to stop someone from planting DNA evidence at a crime scene?

    The same things that stopped you from planting the same sort of evidence before DNA testing:

    You have to collect the samples.

    You have to distribute the samples.

    In ways that are safe and plausible. Getting it right means spending more time at the crime scene. This is generally considered undesirable.

    Unless you are a nincompoop the frame has to fit someone you know very, very well - and who almost certainly knows you.

    It had better not be the poor schnook who was struck by the crosstown bus at 5:30 on the day when your murder was committed at 9 o'clock.

  • by zappepcs ( 820751 ) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @08:31PM (#25894017) Journal

    Exactly, and there are a few other problems that might pop up when matching familial DNA. There do not seem to be any privacy issues addressed here, nor any concern for the rights of citizens.

    If you look exactly like someone that just robbed a bank, you might get stopped walking down the same street. If you happen to have 99% of the same DNA as someone that just robbed a bank, there should not be much cause for searching your person or papers.

    This is only a blaspheme away from searching everyone's DNA to eliminate them from criminal prosecution. Everyone is guilty till proven innocent. On top of that, 'if you have nothing to hide, give us your DNA' is NOT the right solution. Warrants should not be issued on the idea of similar DNA alone.

    Would a man who is step father to 3 good boys, and unknowingly father to a son in another city of the same state have to endure the searching and police BS, as well as his entire family enduring it simply because his DNA was similar to the DNA found at a crime scene?

    This can be good for a marginal minute percentage of the crime fighting. The rest of the time it will be used for pure terrorism, the kind that only police states can generate.

  • Re:sauce (Score:5, Informative)

    by vux984 ( 928602 ) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @08:41PM (#25894089)

    I can understand how convicts, felons, suspects, and arrestees get their DNA thrown into a federal database, but how do they get the DNA of their family members if crime doesn't happen to run in the family? Where are all these DNA samples coming from?

    • Sperm/Blood donors?
    • People crossing the border? (ok... currently just being photographed and fingerprinted afaik... but DNA is next...)
    • People subjected to drug tests?
    • People subjected to 'reference/elimination samples'? ... (ie you were attacked, and now we need your blood sample, so know which blood is the attackers and which is yours...)
    • Medical teststing? Bloodwork?
    • Screening tests for sensitive jobs (law enforcement, military, medicine, security...)
    • Parents volunteering their children's DNA for use if they are kidnapped, etc

    And remember, the moment this becomes legal, they will start begging/demanding/legislating that DNA from any source they can get their hands on be added to the database.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @08:46PM (#25894145)

    Funny thing about matching possible Family Members.
    Depending on how good of DNA profile they took a Lab can match 99.9% Match. That means 1/1000 people of the same race could be the criminal real parent or sibling. If the DNA profile is very detailed the odds are 1/100,000 people of the same race. So theyâ(TM)re going to be a-lot of innocence people harass by the police.

  • by Lloyd_Bryant ( 73136 ) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @08:56PM (#25894243)

    IANAL either, but the 5th amendment only protects against self-incrimination. Anyone else, even your SO, you can be ordered to testify against.

    IANAL either, but IIRC, a wife/husband can *not* testify (voluntarily or otherwise) against his/her spouse and relate information told to him/her "in confidence" by the spouse. Information given to a spouse is deems "privileged", the same as information a person gives to an attorney or therapist. I *think* that evidence can be suppressed if it was obtained in violation of "spousal privilege" (for instance, if a husband tells his wife where he hid the gun, and she tells the police, the gun may be deemed inadmissible as evidence).

    The spouse *can* testify (voluntarily or otherwise), but only regarding things that he/she witnessed. For instance, a spouse can be forced to answer the question "Did you see your spouse hit the neighbor with a baseball bat?".

  • by Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Tuesday November 25, 2008 @09:55PM (#25894717)
    The "illegally obtained evidence" laws generally pertain only to police. In some states, evidence obtained illegally by a private citizen might be perfectly admissible. Though I do not agree with that policy, nevertheless it is up to the individual states.

    The private investigator, while finding evidence that might convict, could find himself up for criminal charges regardless of whether the evidence he found were admissible. It is a pretty big risk. Private investigators are not allowed to break into cars any more than anyone else.
  • Pipes... (Score:2, Informative)

    by RationalRoot ( 746945 ) on Wednesday November 26, 2008 @04:42AM (#25897177) Homepage []
    Decades ago, doctors began to notice high rates of tongue cancer in pipe smokers. Since then, pipe smoking has been shown to cause cancer of the mouth, lip, tongue, throat, larynx, and lung, Thun says. According to Thun, pipe smokers may also increase their risk of contracting other cancers that plague cigarette smokers: cancer of the pancreas, kidney, bladder, colon, and cervix as well as leukemia and diseases such as chronic obstructive lung disease, stroke, and coronary heart disease.
  • by againjj ( 1132651 ) on Wednesday November 26, 2008 @09:43PM (#25905465)

    Wrong. If, during the legal course of police activity, there is probable cause, the item may be seized by the plain view doctrine []. There are restrictions defining "the legal course of police activity", such as the officer may not be searching for anything other than what is in the warrant, the officer may not used enhanced observation, the illegality must be "immediately apparent", etc.

    The fourth amendment [] disallowed general search warrants, which allowed searching without specifying a crime or the evidence to be seized. In the US, both those must be specified, and no actions are allowed that do not pertain to the warrant unless authorized by the owner or other specific circumstances apply, such as consent of the owner.

Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed. -- Neil Armstrong