As Chief Genetic Genealogist at Parabon NanoLabs, CeCe Moore has helped the Newport Beach Police Department solve cases using investigative genetic genealogy. “They were super forward thinking and used it really early,” she said. However, the South Orange County resident refuses to use DNA databases or any data without consent.
“Everybody has the right to decide how their DNA is used unless they have been compelled to provide it because they’ve been convicted of a serious crime,” she said. The Orange County District Attorney (OCDA)’s DNA collection program has gathered more than 182,000 DNA profiles by offering defendants the opportunity to dismiss misdemeanor charges in exchange for a DNA sample that remains permanently in a database.
“Orange County is way ahead of the curve,” Moore told OrangeCountyLawyers.com. “They’ve been using this technique from the beginning of its introduction for law enforcement. They’ve even had their own people trained in the Orange County District Attorney’s office to do genetic genealogy analysis.”
But two University of California at Irvine criminology professors, William Thompson and Simon Cole, have challenged Orange County’s DNA collection program in OC Superior Court, alleging it violates the California Constitution’s right to privacy.
OC Superior Court Judge William Claster dismissed Thompson v Spitzer and the case is pending on appeal in the Fourth Appellate District Court of Appeals. Law enforcement insiders, like Ross Rice, argue that a DNA sample is no more invasive than posting life events on Ancestry, Facebook, YouTube and other sites. Rice is a retired FBI special agent.
“It always fascinates me that people get upset over what they perceive to be a violation of their privacy from a government standpoint because people put their whole life story out there for anyone to see on social media and they don’t think twice,” he said.
The use of DNA by law enforcement has become so sophisticated that the FBI was able to identify Idaho quadruple murder suspect, Bryan Kohberger, based on a sample from a family member’s trash 3000 miles away using a family history site called GEDmatch, according to media reports.
“If you’re not going to commit a quadruple homicide and leave your DNA behind, then you really have nothing to worry about,” Rice told OrangeCountyLawyers.com. The cost of genetic genealogy is one of the downsides because, at first, law enforcement officers could upload a suspect’s DNA profile for free but the service has become more expensive as demand has increased. Currently, it costs law enforcement agencies $700 for one genealogical review, according to Moore.
“That’s the opposite of what you want to see,” she said. “As a field begins to mature, you want to see prices decrease. They could raise it to $3,000 and what would we do? We are totally reliant on those databases and that’s very worrisome.”
A solution is for more police departments to develop their own databases in the way that Orange County is trying to do.
“More and more law enforcement will do this themselves,” Moore added. “We’ve seen the Orange County District Attorney’s office take the lead. They’re one of the few in the country that have learned to do this in-house. Going in that direction, it’ll become less common for someone like me, an outsider, to do the investigative genetic genealogy work for them.”
Juliette Fairley covers legal topics for various publications including the Southern California Record, the Epoch Times and Pacer Monitor-News. Prior to discovering she had an ease and facility for law, Juliette lived in Orange County and Los Angeles where she pursued acting in television and film.