Questions of suspect privacy arise as DNA geneaology sites progress criminal cold cases

ATHENS, Ala. - Sites like Ancestry.com and 23 and Me are growing popular. People are even giving ancestry DNA kits as gifts. These sites have been helping progress stagnant cold cases around the country.

One area law enforcement agency said it has yet to use genealogy websites to solve a cold case --- but doing so is not illegal.

The use of new technology and software to solve years old investigations is on the rise for law enforcement departments.

Now, genealogy and online databases have been used to take new steps in old cases.

A Dothan man, Coley McCraney, was recently charged with capital murder and rape in a nearly 20-year-old case just days ago.

Limestone County Sheriff's office says they have not yet used any online DNA databases to solve cold cases but the choice to do so is up to the state's discretion.

When you're booked into the Limestone County Jail, the process is rather normal. You go in,  get your photo taken, and get fingerprinted. But if you're facing a felony charge they ask you to swab your mouth. They then send that sample off to the state department of forensics.

"We don't have the ability at the sheriff's office to keep it, maintain it, or process it," said Stephen Young of the Limestone County Sheriff's Office.

The sheriff's office says a suspect's rights "As a general rule, inmates do not have any rights or expectations of privacy," explained Young. "That's one of the reasons why there are such constitutional protections that are required before an arrest can be made."

While other agencies are looking towards using genealogy databases, the American Civil Liberties Union says it violates privacy rights.

The sheriff's office says law enforcement's only duty is to work within the boundaries of laws.

"We don't work within the realm of what should be or shouldn't be," explained Young. "We work within the realm of what is law."

Still, cases like the Dothan cold case are reigniting concerns on whether collecting the DNA of someone not yet convicted is a violation of their civil rights.

Some say the databases help solve these cold cases, track repeat offenders, or even exonerate the innocent.

Others say it simply violates a person's right to privacy.

Currently, the state of Alabama declares that genetic identification is a rapidly expanding technology.  The director of the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences should be authorized and empowered to adopt reasonable rules and regulations to support identification research and the development of standard protocols for forensic DNA analysis or tests and DNA quality control.

 

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