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DNA, BABY!

Police use newborn blood samples in crime investigations

Angelique Attaway, ACUMEN Intern



A recent New Jersey lawsuit alleges that police obtained the blood sample of a newborn baby to perform a DNA analysis that linked the baby's father to a crime. Using forensic genealogy, the extraction and analysis involve isolating DNA left at a crime scene and using it to create a digital genetic profile of a suspect. This means that even distant relatives of a newborn can be potentially identified in criminal proceedings based on genetic data.


In the U.S. newborns have blood drawn in the hours after birth to test for potentially life-threatening inherited disorders. According to the Texas Law Review, states typically store residual newborn blood samples for quality assurance, research, or other purposes — and that storage can last from between a few months to decades. Additionally, more than a quarter of U.S. states have no discernible policy in place regarding law enforcement access, while nearly a third may permit such access in at least some circumstances.


Access to these results by law enforcement — specifically in criminal investigations where suspects refuse to provide DNA samples — raises several ethical questions and endangers public trust in both the medical profession and law enforcement. In the New Jersey case, police subpoenaed a newborn blood sample to investigate a 1996 cold case. Instead of seeking a warrant — officers did not have probable cause — the police obtained his child’s DNA sample (then 9 years later) and used it as a probable cause for the warrant.


“This [DNA testing] program was developed for health purposes and to protect the health, and there’s no consent process for the state taking this information from newborns,” Jeanne LoCicero, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, told the New Jersey Monitor. “Because DNA contains intimate, private information about not only the newborn but their family, we need to make sure that that private information is protected from government intrusion, whether it be in this context or a wide range of others.”


The ACLU notes that law enforcement obtaining these samples was always a possibility, the increased use of Investigative Genetic Genealogy (IGG) has also increased the government’s interest in accessing people’s DNA.

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