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    The Pros and Cons of Familial DNA Searches Addressed by Experts

    Authorization of Familial DNA Search is Currently in Pennsylvania Legislature

    While the use of familial DNA has been authorized in California, Colorado and, most recently, Virginia, it has not yet been given the green light here. Introduced to the Pennsylvania Legislature in March as part of Senate Bill 775, the use of familial DNA is increasingly occurring in cold cases and others where suspect DNA cannot be found at the crime scene. In such searches, investigators look for close but not exact matches between DNA evidence and databanks of DNA collected from convicted felons, casting a wider net than previously considered permissible.

     

    This thought-provoking topic will be at the center of The Changing Face of DNA: The Science, Law and Ethics of Familial Searches, a day-long Forensic Fridays seminar on Friday, May 13, at Duquesne University. It is co-sponsored by the Cyril H. Wecht Institute of Forensic Science and Law and the Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences.

    “Familial DNA search is a potent weapon for police investigation,” said Ronald Freeman, former commander of investigations for the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, who is presenting at the seminar. “The DNA of family members has closed many cases that would have otherwise remained unsolved. Legislation is needed in Pennsylvania to make this procedure routine police practice.”

    In addition to Freeman, panelists and presenters include:

    • Rock Harmon, cold case consultant and former senior deputy district attorney of Alameda County, Calif., who catalyzed that state’s adoption of familial search technology, which helped to solve the “Grim Sleeper” case;
    • Pete Marone, director of the Virginia Department of Forensic Science, which just began accepting familial DNA following that state’s adoption of the practice in March;
    • Pennsylvania State Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and one of the bill’s sponsors (will present via phone);
    • Pennsylvania State Sen. Jay Costa;
    • Dr. Mark Perlin, chief executive officer and chief scientific officer of Pittsburgh-based Cybergenetics;
    • Lisa Freeland, federal public defender for the Western District of Pennsylvania;
    • Dr. Jay Aronson, professor of history at Carnegie Mellon University and author of Genetic Witness: Science, Law, and Controversy in the Making of DNA Profiling.

    “DNA databases are an invaluable aid in solving cold cases, like stranger rapes and homicides,” said Perlin, whose company, Cybergenetics, is a leading provider of DNA evidence computer interpretation technology. “But so much more can be done to protect the public, just by using more of the information in the DNA evidence we already have.”

    Five hours of substantive Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credit and one hour of ethics CLE credit have been approved for this seminar. CLE is also available for nurses and teachers. To register and for more details, call 412.396.1330, email wechtinstitute@duq.edu or visit www.duq.edu/forensics/forensic-fridays/pricing.cfm.

    Duquesne University

    Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic research universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. The University is nationally ranked by U.S. News and World Report and the Princeton Review for its rich academic programs in 10 schools of study for 10,000-plus graduate and undergraduate students, and by the Washington Monthly for service and contributing to students' social mobility. Duquesne is a member of the U.S. President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with Distinction for its contributions to Pittsburgh and communities around the globe. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Princeton Review's Guide to Green Colleges acknowledge Duquesne's commitment to sustainability.