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Editorial January 5, 2017  RSS feed

Expand DNA testing for justice’s sake

Expanded DNA testing may help bring justice to the family of Karina Vetrano, who was murdered in Howard Beach last year. Expanded DNA testing may help bring justice to the family of Karina Vetrano, who was murdered in Howard Beach last year. The second day of 2017 marked five months since Howard Beach resident Karina Vetrano was found murdered in a local park. Even with this passage of time, her killer remains at large.

Authorities are now looking at an enhanced DNA testing technique which may help detectives find Vetrano’s killer at long last and solve other cold cases. We believe this method ought to be considered, but on the condition that it doesn’t come with any unintended consequences for innocent people.

Early on in the investigation, there was some hope that genetic evidence found at the crime scene would help lead detectives to Vetrano’s killer. Forensic investigators were able to create a DNA profile from that evidence and search it through local and national criminal databanks. However, there were no matches to any existing DNA profile.

Over the years, the use and analysis of DNA evidence has helped police across the country solve cold cases, find criminals guilty beyond reasonable doubt and exonerate those wrongfully accused of committing a heinous crime. It’s an incredibly effective crime-fighting tool, but in some instances such as the Vetrano murder, even standard DNA testing isn’t enough to help make an arrest.

This has led Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown to ask that the state Commission on Forensic Science authorize the use of familial DNA testing in New York state. Nine other states across the country already use this technique to help solve cold cases.

Familial DNA testing allows forensic investigators to further examine DNA profiles in databanks that closely resemble an unidentified DNA profile recovered from a crime scene. Once a partial match is found, it may indicate that the DNA belongs to a relative of the perpetrator.

There are some groups, however, that have reservations about the use of familial DNA screening. One of them is the American Civil Liberties Union, which through its Illinois division in 2011 indicated that the method could violate the privacy of relatives of convicted felons. It may also inadvertently allow private industries the ability to discriminate against individuals found to be genetically linked to a convicted criminal.

No family of a crime victim should be denied justice, nor should the family of a criminal be denied a home or a job because they happen to be related to a criminal. We believe the state should authorize the use of familial DNA testing, but expressly restrict its use to law enforcement agencies.

Rather than letting a little-known commission make the decision, however, we urge the State Legislature to immediately draft and pass legislation on familial DNA testing in New York state.