Monday, July 28, 2014

Familial DNA


The Death of Anyone (Melange Books; February 2013 trade paperback and ebook formats) is a fictional story in which a Familial DNA search is a key investigative component. This is a unique DNA search technique not in common use, only two states even have a written policy. With forensic evidence increasingly important in solving current real-life cases and now being introduced into trials I thought it would make an interesting plot for a story.

 Photo provided courtesy of D. J. Swykert

The trial of alleged serial killer Lonnie David Franklin, known in the media as The Grim Sleeper, is scheduled to begin this month. Franklin will be the first person brought to trial on the basis of Familial DNA evidence in the U.S. Pretrial motions regarding Fourth Amendment civil rights violations have been ongoing for over four years.

The Grim Sleeper was caught because his son's DNA was the closest match to DNA samples collected at the crime scenes in the database. Investigating Franklin's son led them to investigate Lonnie David Franklin. But there was no direct DNA linking him to the crime scene until a matching DNA sample was obtained after his arrest. The admissibility issues are being thoroughly tested by defense attorneys.

Many legal analysts believe Familial DNA searches violate Fourth Amendment rights which guard against unreasonable searches and seizures. The courts may ultimately rule that searching among Familial DNA databases for partial matches would constitutionally be the same as the use of a generalized warrant to search someone's house when there is no prior reason to suspect the person of wrongdoing, which citizens are constitutionally protected from.

Even Thomas Callaghan, the former head of the F.B.I.'s national DNA database, feared that Familial Searches might be legally vulnerable, since courts might view the searches as an attempt to use samples collected for one purpose for a very different purpose.

Just as we would consider it unreasonable to cast a wide net of suspicion without probable cause in general due to concerns of privacy, personal dignity, and unwanted intrusion in the lives of innocent citizens, we should be similarly concerned the identification of a suspect through partial DNA searches will contribute to further loss of freedoms as DNA databases grow and lead to ever more invasive investigative techniques. These are all constitutional issues that will come into play as the use of DNA science continues to progress towards solving criminal investigations and determining the guilt of suspects. Decisions will be made by the courts that will regulate just how invasive of civil rights law enforcement can proceed in the investigation of serious crimes.

I first heard about the use of Familial DNA working as a 911 operator in 2006. It came up in a conversation with officers working a case. I thought at the time it would make an interesting premise for a book. I began writing The Death of Anyone three years after leaving the department. I had just finished editing a first draft in the summer 2010 when news of The Grim Sleeper's capture in Los Angeles was released. I read with interest all the information pouring out of L.A. regarding the investigation and the problems confronting prosecutors.

These are the same issues confronting Detroit Homicide Detective Bonnie Benham in The Death of Anyone.

The Death of Anyone
D. J. Swykert
A Police Procedural

Detroit homicide Detective Bonnie Benham has been transferred from narcotics for using more than arresting and is working the case of a killer of adolescent girls. CSI collects DNA evidence from the scene of the latest victim, which had not been detected on the other victims. But no suspect turns up in the FBI database. Due to the notoriety of the crimes a task force is put together with Bonnie as the lead detective, and she implores the D.A. to use an as yet unapproved type of a DNA Search in an effort to identify the killer.

Homicide Detective Neil Jensen, with his own history of drug and alcohol problems, understands Bonnie's frailty and the two detectives become inseparable as they track this serial killer.


No comments:

Post a Comment