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Hereditary Genetic Testing and its Role in Criminal Prosecutions

December 19, 2018

By Van Der Veen, Hartshorn, and Levin

DNA testing has allowed a breakthrough in criminal prosecution. Not only can it be used to identify suspects who police believe may have committed the crime, but it can be used to vindicate other suspects who, in fact, had nothing to do with the offense. Retroactive DNA testing has been used to free hundreds of inmates from death row. Here in Pennsylvania, the Post Conviction Relief Act allows convicted people who are currently serving time to submit evidence of their innocence and be set free. For some, post conviction DNA evidence comes too late or never at all, either because they were sent to death, they died in prison, or their life was irreparably ruined after years and even decades behind bars. While DNA testing certainly has its positives and negatives, a new era of DNA forensics is underway in the form of online DNA databases. These massive databases have been created not by the NSA, not the FBI, and not by Homeland Security. In fact, millions of Americans have voluntarily given their DNA to companies for it to be tested (paid for it actually). Many people have paid for hereditary DNA testing so that their DNA can be quickly identified.

15 Million People Have Taken Hereditary Genetic Tests

You may have heard about ancestry genetic testing companies such as 23andMe or These companies offer a product that involves spitting into a tube and mailing that saliva back to the company. In a matter of weeks, the customer’s DNA results are sent back with a map of their ancestry, describing what regions their genes came from. What many of these customers failed to realize is that their genetic information becomes public information. To be sure, 15 million Americans (75 percent of whom were of European descent) have had spit in test tubes to find out their ancestry, and as a result the DNA of virtually every single American of European descent can be matched quickly by law enforcement to the DNA left at a crime scene. This is possible because so many of the suspect’s distant relatives took the test. At least 14 people have been charged in murder cases where police used hereditary DNA information to track them down.

Call a Philadelphia Attorney Today

The presence of DNA evidence does not always mean that the suspect committed the crime. Just because your DNA was found at the crime scene does not mean that you were there when the crime was committed, that you had anything to do with the crime, or even that you were ever at the crime scene. An object with your DNA on it, such as a reusable coffee mug, could have easily been taken to the crime scene, for instance. If you are being charged with any type of crime in which your DNA was used as evidence, you need to call the Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers of van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim today.



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