New York bill revived for family DNA search to solve crime
New York lawmakers are reigniting a push to allow law enforcement to search for and DNA test a suspect’s next of kin to help solve violent crimes.
State Senator Phil Boyle, a Bay Shore Republican, reintroduced a bill this week establish a state policy to release information to law enforcement to search for family DNA of persons previously charged with a crime through the federal system, state Department of Criminal Justice Services, or publicly available data through biotech companies that perform genealogical analysis like AncestryDNA or 23andMe.
“I can’t think of a bigger issue that we can work on to protect New Yorkers,” Boyle said.
The bill would allow family DNA to help solve violent crimes, including murder, rape, kidnapping or acts of terrorism, and is needed following the Appeals Division’s decision to last week in the case of Stevens v. New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services this determined family DNA cannot be used in New York without a bill passed by the legislature. Women make up the vast majority of victims of violent crime.
Forensic scientists working to analyze DNA evidence from a crime scene may use DNA from a person who is a partial match or a close relative of the accused. The parent, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, or cousin of someone imprisoned for another offense could help law enforcement solve a case based on the samples available at the scene.
“Obviously, that drastically reduces the number of suspects from millions to half a dozen to find out who committed a crime,” Boyle said. “It’s a vital tool.”
Law enforcement agencies use DNA data made available to them through a federal or state database or published by genealogical societies. Relatives could be forced to cooperate if law enforcement establishes probable cause and issues a warrant for the data.
“We have to have a sermon and that’s how we get it,” Suffolk County Attorney Raymond A. Tierney said. “We don’t just understand. »
Tierney rejected the idea that the search is a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects people from unreasonable government searches or seizures as long as police have the predication to access DNA data.
“As government actors, we comply with the Fourth Amendment…Google, Apple, they spy on us all the time,” he said. “They don’t comply and no one seems to have a problem with that.”
The police recently solved the 42-year-old homicide of Eve Wilkowitz with genealogy test.
“These DNA databases, this technology, are critical in helping us solve violent crimes, rapes, murders, unsolved murders,” Tierney said. “We’re talking about a growing crime wave and the public is worried. I’m asking is [lawmakers] to stop pretending to talk about public safety and do something about it. Give prosecutors the tools they need to address these issues.”
The state Commission on Forensic Sciences and its DNA subcommittee within the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services decided in 2017 to make New York one of 11 states to allow forces to use DNA family tracing and establish guidelines.
Legislation to establish the policy passed with bipartisan support in a 49-to-11 vote that year, but died in the Assembly.
“At the time, we thought it was a done deal — the commission had spoken and the family searches would be cleared for use by law enforcement,” Boyle said.
The commission’s guidelines remain in place, making it easier for the bill to pass through the Legislative Assembly.
Boyle urged state Attorney General Letitia James to appeal the decision to the state Court of Appeals. Otherwise, the legislature must pass a bill for New York law enforcement to use family DNA searches. The last scheduled day of session is June 2.
Boyle would support the bill if a Democrat in the Legislature’s supermajority addresses the issue, he said.
“There is no pride in ownership – let’s do it,” he added.
About a third of all DNA tests clear potential suspects, Boyle said. His bill remains in the Senate Internet and Technology Committee.
The senator has worked on DNA-related legislation at the federal and state levels since 1988, when DNA testing and advancements were in their infancy.