Is it possible that wanting to learn more about your family tree and that of your ancestors could lead to the incarceration of loved ones? An April 27, 2018 article written by USA Today journalist Ashley May leads to that conclusion and has caught the attention of the criminal law community. To discuss the matter in greater detail, we have posed the question to members of the Michigan legal community to provide insight on the matter.
Scott Grabel is the founder of Grabel and Associates and has developed a reputation as having the top criminal defense firm in the state of Michigan. When asked about the possibility that a DNA test could lead to a criminal conviction, Grabel was quoted as saying, “There are a lot of companies that offer this service. When we review the “Golden State Killer” case we see that Joseph James DeAngelo was arrested after DNA was found due to a match from a DNA website. It’s interesting because when one gets their DNA done on one of these sites there is a possibility they assume the risk of loved ones being subjected to new prosecutions.”
Matthew McManus is the Managing Member of Ann Arbor Legal in Ann Arbor, Michigan and has been heavily involved in criminal cases throughout the state. McManus stated, “We can view DNA sites in the same fashion as cell phone companies. With the cell phone industry, we see a situation where the company will generally attempt to not provide metadata that could be helpful to criminal prosecution. With DNA there is a strong possibility that someone could become a genetic informant and there would be no 4th Amendment protection afforded the defendant. The possibility of compromising one’s rights are present.”
Brian Largey, a retired New Jersey State Trooper and a top criminal defense lawyer in the state added, “When I was an officer, we were always looking to evidence to help a case. Sometimes the evidence told us not to proceed and other times it would lead us to a strong prosecution. Being on the other side of the issue, as an attorney, we do find that a website offering DNA testing may seem unique at first but there is a danger that one’s constitutional rights could be violated without realizing it.”
Grabel added, “Nobody really thinks that they could get a loved one in trouble but there is uncertainty as to whom can review the information and how much access the officer and/or prosecution could have. This is the DNA equivalent of the jailhouse phone call. With the call, there is no question that valuable information can be provided but there is also a chance that the prosecution is listening to the call. If you want to find out about your family history, the best advice any criminal defense lawyer could provide is to proceed with caution.”
With DNA being readily available on various websites to be cross-referenced, we do see a situation where many unsuspecting individuals with claims that would initially appear to be stale could be forced into the criminal court system. In these scenarios we are finding that social media does not always stand side-by-side with the United States Constitution.
William Amadeo is a partner at Ann Arbor Legal in Ann Arbor, Michigan and a Senior Associate for Grabel and Associates. In addition to his duties at his firms, he is also a staff writer for “The Chronicle News” and owns BAT Tutoring in Lansing, Michigan.