Can Consumer DNA Tests Get Your Relatives Arrested? (Pt 1)

DNA is unique to each individual, but the humans who test it aren’t infallible!


If you watch TV, you’ve probably seen those ads for elective DNA and genetic testing offered by places like FamilyTreeDNA, DDC Clinic, and You may have even considered submitting your DNA for testing. After all, who wouldn’t want to know if you have Irish or Bulgarian ancestors, or more importantly, if you carry the genes that predispose you to certain diseases. Surely being tested is worth the investment if it can help you avoid breast cancer, or cystic fibrosis, or diabetes.


Your DNA could be used for more than just your private tests


That was certainly the hope when a woman from Rexburg, Idaho, submitted her dad’s DNA for testing. As an avid genealogist, she wanted to know his ancestry, but what she got instead was a police investigation.


As it turns out, her father’s DNA results included YDNA results, which pass from father to son and are only found in the direct paternal line. The woman, who spoke to the press on conditions of anonymity, explained “The male line can go back 20 to 30 generations.” But what does this have to do with the police? Why would law enforcement care who is in your family tree?


DNA collected at crime scenes must be matched to individuals


From 1976 to 1986, the Golden State Killer left 12 murders, 45 sexual assaults and 120 residential burglaries in his wake. No one knew who he was, or how he got away with it, but for a decade this serial rapist and murderer left a trail of terror and was never caught. Until a distant relative’s DNA was submitted for testing.


The FBI never stopped looking for the Golden State Killer. They had multiple DNA samples that had been left at crime scenes, but they had no match. And then suddenly a DNA test result with a 12 marker match was uploaded to, a shared genealogy webpage. Suddenly, after all those years, they had a suspect.


The woman’s father wasn’t the Golden State Killer!


Additional testing revealed that the woman’s father wasn’t actually the killer they were searching for, but he was related! An agent reached out and asked the woman to research her family tree and see what she could come up with. Were there any male relatives who had lived in California during that time? There was one – a distant cousin named Joseph DeAngelo who had been a police officer.


After extensive investigation, DeAngelo was arrested, and has been charged with multiple murders in several different California counties. Police say that more charges are expected. At his first arraignment, DeAngelo sat in court in a wheelchair, and didn’t enter a plea. But charged is not convicted. There is still a long way to go.


DNA has come under fire before in criminal cases…


The FBI said they finally got DeAngelo’s DNA from an item he discarded in a public place while they were surveilling him. However all aspects of this case will be under scrutiny for a long time to come, and the DNA angle will play a major role in that. Join us next time as we discuss the role DNA plays in investigations, and how making your DNA public can have unintended consequences.


Until then, if you or a loved one have been charged with a crime in Michigan, and you need help from a skilled criminal defense attorney, call The Kronzek Firm today at 866 766 5245 (866 7No Jail). We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, including weekends and holidays, to help you deal with your legal problem. We’ve been fighting for our clients all over the lower peninsula of Michigan since that last century. We can help you too.


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