Can Law Enforcement Access DNA Used to Screen Infants for Diseases?

 Posted on August 31,2022 in Criminal Defense

Hartford criminal defense lawyerDNA evidence is being used more and more often in criminal cases. Since everyone's DNA is unique, samples of blood or other bodily substances left behind at a crime scene can often be used to identify suspects. However, because family members share genetic information, police officers may gather DNA from other people to attempt to determine whether their relatives may have committed crimes. This has raised a number of concerns about privacy and whether these types of searches are Constitutional. 

Lawsuit in New Jersey Challenges Collection of Baby DNA in Criminal Cases

The New Jersey Office of the Public Defender (OPD) recently took legal action to address a subpoena used in a case in which the New Jersey State Police were seeking to identify a suspect in a sexual assault that took place in 1996. The police had narrowed down the potential suspects to one of three brothers. While they did not have a search warrant allowing them to take DNA samples from any of the suspects, they did request a blood sample that was kept on file with the state's Newborn Screening Laboratory. This sample had been taken in 2012, and by comparing the child's DNA with the DNA from the original crime scene, investigators were able to determine that the baby was the child of the person suspected of committing the crime. This gave them enough information to request a search warrant for a DNA sample from the child's father and prosecute that person for the 1996 offense.

These practices have raised alarms about the privacy of people's genetic information. The state of New Jersey requires blood samples to be taken from all newborn infants to screen children for different types of medical disorders. These samples are given willingly with the understanding that they will be used for medical purposes, and few people realize that a child's genetic information could be accessed by law enforcement during criminal investigations. In the case in question, a grand jury subpoena was used to obtain the DNA sample, and officials were only required to show that they had reasonable grounds to believe that the data would be relevant to a criminal investigation. This is a much lower standard than would be required in a search warrant in which officers must demonstrate that they have probable cause to believe that the information being requested is evidence that will demonstrate that a suspect committed a crime.

The lawsuit in this case is seeking to prevent law enforcement officials from having easy access to genetic information that is kept on file for non-criminal purposes. While courts have yet to make a definitive decision on these matters, previous decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court may provide a precedent for how these types of searches should be handled. In the case of Carpenter v. United States, the Supreme Court ruled that probable cause was required for law enforcement to access a person's cell phone location information. Genetic data may be similar enough to require the same standards for police officers who are looking to obtain information that can be used to identify suspects.

Contact Our Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you have been charged with a crime, it is important to speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. The use of DNA evidence in criminal cases is becoming more common, and you need an attorney who knows how to challenge these types of searches. Woolf Law Firm, LLC has experience handling all types of criminal cases and we will fight to protect your rights. Contact a Hartford criminal defense attorney today at 860-290-8690 to schedule a free consultation.


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