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Curious About Your Ancestors? Using That DNA Website to Learn More Could Land You in Jail

DNA evidence has long been used by Kentucky law enforcement to try to find criminal suspects. Police in California used a commercial DNA business advertised as one to help customers track down family members to help it provide enough evidence to justify arresting a suspect believed to have committed a dozen killings, 45 rapes and more than 120 burglaries, the last one committed, as far as police know, 22 years ago.

The man known as the Golden State Killer and the East Area Rapist was the subject of a cold case, one where investigators couldn’t come up with enough evidence for an arrest. They got creative and used DNA evidence to arrest James DeAngelo, a 72-year-old former police officer living in Citrus Heights, in April. At a court appearance, he was charged with eight murders.

The FBI operates a DNA database which can be accessed by local and state police, and some police departments have started compiling their own databases. In the Golden State Killer case, investigators used DNA evidence to create a profile of the killer; there were no matches in the existing criminal DNA databases, so they tried one used by genealogists (those who study family backgrounds), GEDmatch.com.

They generated a profile from DNA on an item DeAngelo discarded and were able to get a list of how much DNA others shared with him. The more DNA that is shared, the more closely related they are to the perpetrator.

Anyone can create an account on the website, upload raw DNA information and find other profiles that match. A user need not use their real name, though some do. The company warns users that it can’t promise absolute security or privacy. The police didn’t need a court order to access the database. GEDmatch stated it had no knowledge that police were using it to identify a suspect. A district attorney told the press that the DNA used to match DeAngelo was uploaded by one of his relatives.

Investigators then used the results to explore family trees and find men who fit the profile of the Golden State Killer, those of a certain age and height and living in California when the crimes were committed. Results from the website came back about four hours after the DNA data was uploaded.

It’s estimated that the two leading companies targeting consumers are believed to have tested about ten million people. If you’re looking for past ancestors, your DNA could be providing law enforcement with evidence that could be used against you or family members. These commercial DNA databanks are less regulated than those used by law enforcement.

Thanks to new technology there’s more evidence that can be used in criminal investigations, including cell phone videos, technology that tracks the location of cell phones, admissions made on social media and now DNA samples volunteered by those never thinking it may be used in a criminal investigation. If you’re thinking of using one of these DNA matching services, maybe you should think again.

Church, Langdon, Lopp, Banet Law has faithfully served the people and communities of Indiana for several years in a variety of criminal defense cases, and we will help you create a strategy that gives you the chance for the best possible outcome. With offices in New Albany and attorneys who are licensed to serve the Kentuckiana area, we have the knowledge, experience and resources to help. To ask a question or to set up a consultation, contact us online or give us a call today.

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