Governor McDonnell Announces that the Department of Forensic Science Will Implement the Controversial Procedure for Investigating Unsolved Violent Crimes

Richmond, VA — The ACLU of Virginia today expressed concern that Virginia has become the third state in the nation to implement a familial DNA program, in which law enforcement personnel will be allowed to search the state’s criminal DNA data bank, not only for matches with crime scene evidence, but also for indications that the criminal may be a relative of the person in the data bank.
“There is a reason that, until now, only two states used this procedure,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis.  “By making suspects of people solely because they are related to someone who has committed a crime, familial DNA creates something akin to guilt by genetic association.  That rubs a lot of people the wrong way, including law enforcement officials, many of whom are opposed to the new technology.”
The Virginia Crime Commission determined last year that no legislation was necessary for Virginia to implement a familial DNA program, giving the green light to the Department of Forensic Science to do it on its own.  Today, the Governor announced that VDFS now has the ability to conduct familial DNA searches and that it had issued a policy restricting its use to cases involving violent crimes when “other investigative leads have been exhausted and critical public safety concerns exist.”
“It remains to be seen how often familial DNA testing will be used in Virginia, but that may be the most significant question at this juncture,” added Willis. “Familial DNA testing is a government device that reduces privacy by making suspects of individuals merely because they are related to a criminal.  If it is used only in the most heinous cases, where other investigative techniques have failed, then the privacy invasions will be limited and may serve a public purpose.  But if familial DNA becomes too popular, that would be highly problematic, enabling the police to label hundreds of individuals as suspects based solely on their genetic makeup.”
“History shows a tendency to increase the use of any technology once we have it and it becomes less expensive,” said Willis.  “Our job at the ACLU will be to keep a close eye on the protocol used by the Department of Forensic Science to make sure familial DNA remains a rarely used process.”
Familial DNA was first used successfully in Colorado, but did not gain national attention until it was used to solve the “Grim Sleeper” case in California last year.  In that case, 20 years of murders by a single suspect went unsolved until police determined that the killer was a relative of a man serving time in state prison.
For more information on the use of familial DNA, read ACLU of Virginia Associate Director Elizabeth Wong’s blog at: http://acluva.org/5591/uncle-john%E2%80%99s-dna/

Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, 804-644-8022

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