Could Kinship DNA Searches Discriminate Against Blacks?


In 2003, a Denver woman was savagely raped and beaten. Police had only a vague description of her assailant. DNA evidence recovered from the victim didn't match any of 50,000 profiles of convicted felons in Colorado's database. A search of the FBI's National DNA Index System yielded a close match with a convicted felon in Oregon whose DNA profile in that state's database was similar enough to the Denver rapist's to suggest that the two men might be closely related, says the American Bar Association Journal.

The FBI at first refused to identify the Oregon felon, but Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey helped persuade the FBI to allow release of information on “kinship searches.” FBI lab director Joseph A. DiZinno says that, under the new policy, the FBI will leave it to the states to decide whether to release any identifying information about an offender whose DNA profile closely matches a crime scene sample from another state. An advisory board of scientists is reviewing the interim policy and will recommend whether the change should be made permanent. The idea of using DNA from offenders to help catch their relatives is disconcerting, says Stanford law Prof. Henry Greely, given the fact that blacks, who constitute about 13 percent of the U.S. population, make up about 40 percent of those in the national DNA database. That would put blacks as a group under much greater investigative scrutiny than whites.


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