The Chronicle-Telegram recently turned to Attorney Ian Friedman over an issue of increasing concern
in our criminal justice system: the use of familial DNA evidence against
the accused. According to Attorney Friedman, familial DNA could be a gateway
to alarming privacy issues, especially when law enforcement is allowed
to maintain ever-growing DNA databases. This is the case in Ohio, where
DNA is extracted from everyone arrested for a felony offense and then
stored in a database, regardless of their guilt or innocence.
“Each person looked at will have their name generated in police investigative
reports subject to public records laws,” Friedman said. “People’s
names will be shown as suspects in heinous matters. That’s out there
for good, and the problem is, once someone is cleared, we don’t
have a system of purging.”
The Case of Justin A. Christian
The concerns of using familial DNA are described by The Chronicle-Telegram
in the case of Justin A. Christian, a man currently accused of numerous
felony offenses including rape and aggravated burglary. In the hunt to
identify and apprehend Christian, law enforcement found a DNA sample of
Christian's DNA on a stepladder. That sample was not a match to any
individual whose DNA was currently stored in Ohio's DNA databases.
However, the authorities were then able to cast a wider net with the DNA
sample search and identify several of Christian's family members who
had previously been processed in the Ohio criminal justice system. In
doing so, they were then able to pinpoint who Christian was and arrest him.
Christian is still awaiting his day in court, but while most experts note
that using familial DNA can be useful for law enforcement, many share
the same concerns that Attorney Friedman does. "It’s difficult
to raise these issues in the face of the most recent prospect that a serial
abductor [Christian] has been taken off the streets," he told The
Chronicle-Telegram. "A lot of people will say, ‘Who cares?’
because people don’t care about the criminal justice system unless
they have been touched by it."
Attorney Friedman believes that relying on an expansive database will also
deepen prejudices we already often see our justice system struggling with.
"Any time you see unfairness, you’ll see race and economic
hardship, and that’s what you’ll see with familial DNA testing,"
Attorney Friedman adds. "We know perfectly well that if police came
to people’s houses to swab for DNA, people would be up in arms.
That’s how they need to think about this. Not just, ‘Oh, it’s
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