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New York Court Rules Police Allowed to Use Familial DNA Searches

by Jordan Arizmendi

In 2022, a New York court barred law enforcement from using familial DNA searches (“FDS”). According to the court, the state’s regulations for FDS were invalid because they first needed to be approved by the state legislature.

However, on October 24, 2023, the New York Court of Appeals (the state’s highest court) reversed the previous decision, ruling that New York law enforcement may resume investigating crimes using FDS.

No question, FDS is a very powerful and effective tool for law enforcement. With a few drops of DNA, FDS enables law enforcement to search massive DNA databases of convicted criminals. Despite its usefulness in solving crimes, FDS also raises serious privacy concerns. Opponents of FDS argue that the forensic technique is yet another form of mass surveillance and a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

When a person’s DNA gets put into a DNA database, the DNA of all of their close biological relatives are also included and searchable. The 2022 case that resulted in New York suspending law enforcement’s usage of FDS was brought by two men with brothers who had been convicted of crimes. Their argument was that because of their brothers’ crimes, law enforcement searches could improperly target them.

FDS should not be confused with Forensic Genetic Genealogy (“FGG”). As consumer DNA testing has become very popular, an enormous genetic genealogy database has been produced, in which law enforcement uses to identify a human. FGG was used to capture the Golden State Killer. The difference between the two is that FDS is a deliberate search of a criminal database for a specific DNA profile.  


Source: ForensicMag

[Note: The case is published at Respondents v. New York State Div. of Criminal Justice Servs. (In re Stevens), 2023 N.Y. LEXIS 1824, 2023 NY Slip Op 05351, 2023 WL 6983470 (Court of Appeals of New York October 24, 2023, Decided).]

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Related legal case

Respondents v. New York State Div. of Criminal Justice Servs. (In re Stevens)



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