Lately there are more and more services that offer to trace your DNA. They propose to tell you what your ancestry really is, revealing things about your familial and ethnic background that you may not have even known. The commercials portray the services as being fun, fascinating, and useful. Just mail a sample to them and they send you back your DNA results.
Information May Threaten Privacy
Reports have disclosed that many of these services can and will give the DNA evidence that they find about you to police, should the police obtain a warrant for such information. That DNA evidence could in turn be used as evidence to link you to a crime.
As we are aware, today’s crime investigations often involve the collection of DNA evidence at crime scenes (that is often the same DNA that is used to exonerate those who are wrongfully convicted). If police have that DNA and think it may be connected to you, they could order your DNA test results from any one of these services, and see if they have a match.
There is no guarantee that the services will even let you know if your DNA information has been requested or provided. The services say that it depends on whether disclosing that your DNA has been given out would compromise an active investigation.
The privacy issues do not stop at you, though. They extend to your family members, as law enforcement may be able to obtain their DNA information when investigating you for a crime. So, for example, if police suspect you may be involved in a crime, and your mother had her DNA tested by one of these services, law enforcement may be able to get her DNA and “link” it to you because of the similarities in family DNA.
Legal Hurdles Offer Some Protection
Still, there are some legal hurdles to overcome before any prosecutor would be able to use this kind of evidence against you even if it were legally obtained.
Most troubling are chain of custody issues. Normally when evidence is collected, there is a strict procedure as to how it is handled, and documents and evidence are created showing who handled it. So, for example, evidence may go from a crime scene investigator to a lab technician to a law enforcement agency to a state prosecutor. Each has strict protocols to follow when handling evidence to make sure it is not tainted.
Online DNA sites do not have these protocols. This means it would be difficult to convince a court that the DNA has not been altered, even accidentally, or to meet the evidence standard to show the DNA shown in court is the same you provided to the service.
This is all in addition to the scientific testimony that would need to be shown because the way that a service handles and reads DNA may be different than the way law enforcement handles and tests it to link people to crimes.
We can help you understand the evidence that police may have and protect your rights in court. Contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss your rights in a criminal trial.