Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

It’s a Family Affair

July 8th, 2010 · 2 Comments

Yesterday’s arrest of a suspect in the long-running “Grim Sleeper” killings was made possible by familial DNA searching—in a nutshell, the suspect’s genetic material wasn’t in California’s database, but a family member’s was. A paper from earlier this year explains how the Golden State decides when such a search is enough to warrant further investigation:

In April 2008, the California Department of Justice relaxed its policies to allow for familial DNA searches and the reporting of results to authorities for further investigation. The policy shift makes California the national leader in familial DNA searching. Unlike other states, California vigorously pursues familial searching as a matter of policy rather than happenstance. California’s policy requires a sharing of at least 15 alleles, additional DNA testing, and a prosecution committee review before the pivot’s name will be released to authorities. But the policy lacks any similar safeguards for the relatives of the pivot who may be implicated by the results of a familial search. California Attorney General Jerry Brown stated that the new policy was warranted because of the rise in violent crime in the state.

Expect a ton of debate on this investigatory technique in the coming days. We anticipate that the positive press stemming from the alleged Grim Sleeper’s arrest will pressure other states to follow California’s lead. And that will inevitably lead to a lot more cases in which innocents are compelled to give up DNA, because their familial connections automatically bring them under suspicion.


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2 Comments so far ↓

  • scottstev

    Based on the follow-up article you posted, it seems like the retreived the suspect’s dna through surveillance and picking up publically discarded trash left by the suspect.

    But I could see how a familial hit could be stretch precedent by precedent until lots of people are compelled provide a sample uncessarily (ie the Turo, MA case. I’m much more concerned about access to DNA testing from convicts hoping to exonerate themselves. That seems to be a much more common injustice.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @scottstev: As I understand it, the initial DNA results pointed at a much younger man–a man who turned out the Grim Sleeper’s son, and had recently been arrested:

    “Only then did they get to the test results: the DNA from crime scenes in the Grim Sleeper case had been linked to a young man who had been arrested in recent months.

    The man was too young to be the killer. But authorities were confident he was related to the Grim Sleeper.”

    The NYT has a piece about this very debate today, though I’ve yet to read it. I’ll also have to read up on that Turo case–not familiar with it, so thanks for the tip-off.