The use of familial DNA to solve crimes gained interest after the murder of Queens joger Karina Vetrano.
Only two members of a special panel put together by Gov. Cuomo voted against approving the use of familial DNA to solve violent crimes.
Marvin Schechter, a Manhattan-based defense attorney, was one of the dissenting voices on the State Commission on Forensic Science who opposed the technique being used by law enforcement agencies across the state in felony and sex crime investigations.
“Here’s the problem. The methodology has gotten better from when they first started, but on the other hand, we now know that if you jigger the parameters, that can make all the difference in what you get,” he said Saturday.
“With familial DNA, the issue becomes how do you set the parameters.”
The method allows investigators to identify suspects by checking genetic material of relatives who are already in the state’s DNA database.
Chanel Lewis, 20, was eventually busted in the jogger’s death due to conventional police work.
It’s used in 10 states, but defense lawyers and civil liberties advocates decry it for entangling law-abiding people in investigations because of their family ties.
At least two jurisdictions, Maryland and Washington, D.C., have prohibited the practice, and the Legal Aid Society said Friday it was considering legal action.
Proponents see familial searching as a potent source of leads that can be done precisely and fairly.
“The process also helps exclude the innocent, and safeguards are in place so that the searching is done prudently and the information is used discreetly,” said state district attorneys’ association president Thomas Zugibe, the Rockland County DA.
The technique gained interest in New York when police discovered DNA on slain Howard Beach jogger Karina Vetrano’s body, but couldn’t find a match in the state database. Vetrano’s family lobbied for the use of familial testing.
Vetrano’s killer was eventually caught by conventional police work.
“Really, this was a political venture,” Schechter said. “In that case we got a letter from the Queens DA that said ‘we’ve exhausted all leads.’ Then we had this political campaign to use the Vetrano case. Between January and March, lo and behold, having exhausted all techniques, they found a new one. I said, ‘guess what, you didn’t exhaust all leads.”