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 or visit

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