New Direction in DNA Testing for Investigations

Today’s Wednesday’s Guest is DL (David) Swykert, author of The Death of Anyone, a police procedural mystery set in my hometown, Detroit. As I mentioned in my review last Sunday, it was a pleasure to take a virtual trip back. I thought David might enjoy a cinnamon roll this morning with his coffee, and you are welcome to join us.  

First I want to thank Maryann for having me as a guest today, and I would like to share a bit about Familial DNA. This is a unique DNA search technique not in common use, only two states even have a written policy.
I first heard about the use of Familial DNA working as a 911 operator in 2006. It came up in a conversation with officers working a case. I thought at the time it would make an interesting premise for a book. I began writing The Death of Anyone three years after leaving the department. I had just finished editing a first draft in the summer 2010 when news of The Grim Sleeper’s capture in Los Angeles using a Familial DNA search was released. I read with interest all the information pouring out of L.A. regarding the investigation and the constitutional admissibility issues confronting prosecutors.
The trial of alleged serial killer Lonnie David Franklin, known in the media as The Grim Sleeper, is scheduled to begin in 2015. Franklin will be the first person brought to trial on the basis of Familial DNAevidence in the U.S. Pretrial motions regarding Fourth Amendment civil rights violations have been ongoing for over four years.

The Grim Sleeper was caught because his son’s DNA was the closest database match to DNA samples collected at the crime scenes. Investigating Franklin‘s son led officers to investigate Lonnie David Franklin. But there was no direct DNA linking him to the crime scene until a matching DNA sample was obtained after his arrest. The admissibility issues are being thoroughly tested by defense attorneys.

Many legal analysts believe Familial
DNA searches violate Fourth Amendment rights which guard against unreasonable searches and seizures. The courts may ultimately rule that searching among Familial DNA databases for partial matches would be the same as the use of a generalized warrant to search someone’s house when there is no prior reason to suspect the person of wrongdoing. Our Constitution protects us from that kind of unwarranted search.

Even Thomas Callaghan, the former head of the FBI’s national DNA database, feared that Familial Searches might be legally vulnerable, since courts might view the searches as an attempt to use samples collected for one specific purpose for a very different purpose.

Just as we would consider it unreasonable to cast a wide net of suspicion without probable cause due to concerns of privacy, personal dignity, and unwanted intrusion in the lives of innocent citizens, we should be concerned the identification of a suspect through partial DNA searches will contribute to further loss of freedoms. These are all constitutional issues that will come into play as the use of DNA science continues to progress in criminal investigations.     

These are the same issues confronting Detroit Homicide Detective Bonnie Benham in The Death of Anyone. Bonnie has been transferred from narcotics for using more than arresting and is working the case of a killer of adolescent girls. CSI collects DNA evidence from the scene of the latest victim, which had not been detected on the other victims. But no suspect turns up in the FBI database. Due to the notoriety of the crimes, a task force is put together with Bonnie as the lead detective, and she implores the D.A. to use an as yet unapproved type of a DNASearch in an effort to identify the killer. Homicide Detective Neil Jensen, with his own history of drug and alcohol problems, understands Bonnie’s frailty and the two detectives become inseparable as they track this serial killer.

Read an excerpt of the book at MAGICMASTERMINDS — Buy the book at  MELANGE BOOKS * AMAZON  *  BARNES AND NOBLE  *  iTUNES  * KOBO 
DJ Swykert is a former 911 operator. His work has appeared in The Tampa Review, Detroit News, Monarch Review, Lunch Ticket, Zodiac Review, Barbaric Yawp and Bull. His books include Children of the Enemy, Maggie Elizabeth Harrington, Alpha Wolves, The Death of Anyone and The Pool Boy’s Beatitude. You can find him at his WEBSITE  

QUESTION – Have you heard of Familial DNA testing? What do you think of the civil rights issues involved with using the results of partial DNA testing for prosecutions?

2 thoughts on “New Direction in DNA Testing for Investigations”

  1. Fascinating. I never thought of using familial DNA to link a suspect to a crime but I can certainly see a lot of legal and ethical issues. I would certainly object to my DNA being used against a member of my family.

  2. This is all so new, LD, it will be interesting to see how it plays out in the legal system. I know David is following the Grim Sleeper news, so I hope he will come back and let us know the results of that trial. Who knows, maybe he will get another book out of it.

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