Legal Aid Society


Court: NYS Law Enforcement Must End Familial DNA Searches

The Legal Aid Society and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP have secured a ruling which strikes down regulations that allow for “familial searching” in New York State, as reported by the New York Daily News.

Familial searching is where law enforcement scans DNA databases for genetic information about a relative of someone whose genetic information is in the database. When a search for an exact match to a DNA sample comes up without a match, a familial DNA search may bring up information that could pertain to a sibling, child, parent or other blood relative.

Because of biased policing methods such as “stop and frisk,” the DNA database contains an overrepresentation of people of color.  Familial searching magnifies and enhances that bias by making family members who have no criminal records subject to police investigations.

The regulations were initially adopted by New York State Commission on Forensic Science (CFS) and the New York State Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) in late 2017. The Legal Aid Society and Gibson Dunn filed a suit challenging the controversial practice in early 2018.

“The Commission on Forensic Science and the Department of Criminal Justice Services acted well outside their purview and authority by unilaterally promulgating this far reaching policy, one that should have been left to the Legislature to debate,” said Jenny S. Cheung, Supervising Attorney of the DNA Unit with The Legal Aid Society. “We laud this decision which affirms our serious constitutional, privacy and civil rights concerns around familial searching, a technique that disproportionately impacts Black and Latinx New Yorkers.”