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A New York court halted the use of a DNA crimefighting tool that has helped crack cold cases and put murderers behind bars, but has also raised privacy and racial discrimination concerns, because state lawmakers never approved the practice.

Known as familial DNA searching, the technique allows law enforcement agencies to search the state’s DNA databank for close biological relatives of people who have left traces of genetic material at a crime scene.

A panel of judges on a mid-level appeals court ruled Thursday that regulations for the technique were invalid because a state committee implemented them without consent from the Legislature.

Three of the panel’s five members voted to suspend the searches, which were challenged by a group of Black men who worried they could be targeted for investigation because their biological brothers were convicted of crimes and had genetic information stored in the state’s DNA databank.

Judge Judith J. Gische, writing for the majority, noted that familial DNA searching is useful in investigating crimes — including in identifying serial killers in Kansas and California and a recent... see more