California justice and DNA databases

By Razib Khan | May 11, 2011 1:20 pm

Whenever people question me throwing my genotype into the public domain I express the honest opinion that genetic transparency is only a matter of time, and that the government will have all this stuff on file at some point within the next 10 years in any case.  I’ve talked about the utilization of the DNA of one family member to catch another before. This is particularly useful because criminal activity tends to be elevated in some families vs. others. California is now pushing ahead with this method, State to double crime searches using family DNA:

Although such genetic sleuthing, known as familial searching, remains controversial — California is one of only three states that permit the technique — Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris has increased the budget to double the number of such searches and reduce a DNA backlog.

“California is on the cutting edge of this in many ways,” Harris, who replaced Jerry Brown as the state’s top law enforcement officer in January, said in an interview last week. “I think we are going to be a model for the country. I really do.”

California’s early success with familial searching — it led to the arrest of the suspect in the Grim Sleeper serial killings last summer — has spurred calls for using the science to trace criminals nationwide. Virginia recently joined California and Colorado in permitting such searches.

I’d bet that the discussion of whether this should be done is now a moot point. Rather, the question is going to be the scope and nature of implementation.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Behavior Genetics, Genetics, Genomics
  • Onur

    Only powerful states or countries are governed so rationally. I congratulate California!

  • ohwilleke

    It isn’t clear to me that California’s family searching protocol has received a judicial blessing of its constitutionality. There is a plausible argument that a family based genome matching search not supported by probable cause violates the Fourth Amendment and that any evidence procured by that means (including “fruit of the poisonous tree”) could be suppressed in a criminal prosecution of the family member.

    The Fourth Amendment precedents on what constitutes a search or seizure for Fourth Amendment purposes in high technology areas is a mixed bag. A wiretap, for example, has pretty universally been held to constitute a search, while an observation through an open window, even if it uses a telescope to get a better view than would be possible with the naked eye, has not.

    Collecting DNA for use as evidence against someone who has been validly arrested with probable cause has generally been upheld, but there are few cases where this DNA has been used to create probable cause to believe that someone who has never been validly arrested.

  • Razib Khan

    It isn’t clear to me that California’s family searching protocol has received a judicial blessing of its constitutionality

    if it has social backing i’m confident that your profession will produce some appropriate casuistical argument which validates it. you always do. i believe in induction :-)

  • Pingback: The Last Dire Issue Facing California,Fitted or Flat? « YOU DECIDE()

  • ohwilleke

    “you always do.”

    Thanks for the backhanded vote of confidence. 😉

  • Matt B.

    Wow, I live in Colorado, and I hadn’t heard about its use here. Also, I’d never heard of the word “casuistical” before. It looks like a misspelling, and yet there it is on


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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