It might seem ungrateful to question the methods police use when they catch a suspected serial killer and rapist. The Golden State Killer terrorized entire communities for decades, and now, police say, they’ve got him. He won’t be hurting anyone else.
So, it doesn’t matter how they got him, right?
Actually, it matters a lot.
Police in California used a private DNA database to identify and arrest Joseph DeAngelo, who they say committed at least 12 murders and as many as 100 rapes between 1974 and 1986.
Their use of a genealogy website to find the suspect will probably be repeated by law enforcement around the country and in South Carolina, and it raises ethical and privacy questions that courts may be dealing with for years.
How Did They Identify the Golden State Killer Suspect?
Police took DNA that had been found at the scene of multiple homicides believed to have been committed by the Golden State Killer and uploaded it to the genealogy website GEDmatch. By finding matches with the DNA of people who have uploaded their own DNA, they were able to create a family tree and eventually narrow the search using age and location.
When their research pointed to DeAngelo, a former police officer, law enforcement officials put him under surveillance and collected his “abandoned” DNA, which was a match to the DNA found at the crime scenes.
So, What’s the Problem?
People submit their DNA to these websites to learn about their family history – not to participate in criminal investigations against their own family members. In this case, they had no idea their DNA would be used by law enforcement agents in a criminal investigation. And, if they didn’t know, they couldn’t have given their consent.
Does this matter? Does it present an ethical problem? I think so, but in the end, the courts will have to decide these kinds of issues. As DNA technology continues to expand, there will be even more difficult questions for courts to wrestle with.
What about the suspect’s rights? Uploading his DNA makes it public – and remember, he is still just a suspect, innocent until proven guilty. Police already do this with fingerprints, and the courts have never complained. But, fingerprints don’t tell you much about a person, while DNA contains a lot of very private information.
And what about the family members whose DNA samples were used, without consent, to identify the suspect? Should police be able to use your DNA to put your mother or your brother in jail without even consulting you?
Do All DNA Sites Share Information with Law Enforcement?
No … at least not yet.
GEDmatch is different than most DNA-genealogy companies. Sites like 23AndMe and AncestryDNA do not allow users to upload their DNA to their site, and they do not share information with law enforcement or any other third parties.
If you value privacy, that’s a good thing, because the two top DNA websites alone say they have tested 10 million people. That is a whole lot of potential “evidence.”
The Myrtle Beach criminal defense lawyers at Axelrod and Associates will investigate your charges, get the evidence that the government plans to use against you, and challenge their evidence and methodology at every stage of your case.
If you have been charged with a crime in the Myrtle Beach or Rock Hill areas of South Carolina, call us now at (843) 916-9300 or fill out our contact form to set up a free initial consultation about your case.