Posted on May 10, 2022

NY Court Halts Family DNA Searches for Crime Suspects

Associated Press, May 6, 2022

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.


The Legal Aid Society, a non-profit organization representing indigent defendants in New York City, sued the state February 2018, arguing that the Division of Criminal Justice Services had no authority to unilaterally expand use of the DNA databank.

The suit raised concerns that innocent people could be ensnared in a criminal investigation “based solely on their genetic kinship with convicted individuals.”

The lawsuit, filed in conjunction with the law firm Gibson Dunn, contended that people of color faced a higher risk of being investigated through familial DNA searching because the majority of DNA information in the state’s databank is from people of color, and that the state did nothing to restrain police overreach or give recourse to people subject to suspicion less searches.

Jenny S. Cheung, supervising attorney of the Legal Aid Society’s DNA Unit, said the Division of Criminal Justice Services and the forensic science commission “acted well outside their purview and authority by unilaterally promulgating this far reaching policy, one that should have been left to the legislature to debate.”

“We laud this decision which affirms our serious constitutional, privacy and civil rights concerns around familial searching, a technique that disproportionately impacts Black and Latinx New Yorkers,” Cheung said.