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The December 5th, 2016 announcement of the arrest of Justin Christian was noteworthy in that it brought an end to the almost year-long manhunt for a suspect in two cases where young girls were abducted from their homes. Christian’s crimes were described as “every parent’s worst nightmare” by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and had placed Northeast Ohio families on edge. However, Christian’s arrest made news in Ohio and throughout the nation not because he was caught, but because of how he was caught. For the first time, the State of Ohio used a familial DNA search to help identify their suspect.
The process of familial DNA testing involves taking DNA evidence that had been collected during a crime investigation and comparing it to the state DNA database. If there is no direct DNA match, then familial DNA testing can be done in an attempt to identify possible first-degree male relatives of the suspect in the database by comparing Y chromosomes. The results of successful familial DNA testing would then give investigators the name of a father, brother, or son of the suspect. Law enforcement agencies could then use that information to narrow the focus of their investigation.
The use of familial DNA testing in the Justin Christian case makes Ohio the 11th state to make use of such testing, joining states like California, Florida, and Michigan. The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation has developed a 12 page set of policies and procedures for the use of familial DNA testing that includes guidelines for which cases qualify for the testing. The criteria for a case that qualifies for familial DNA testing is one that involves a crime that is:
An exception can be made to the criteria by the Bureau of Criminal Investigation Superintendent for a matter of extreme public safety.
The Justin Christian case provides an example of the benefits of familial DNA testing, but use of the testing does raise privacy concerns. By using testing to identify familial relationships, investigators can essentially obtain DNA information on all first-degree male relatives of those already in the Ohio DNA database. Many of those identified will be innocent of any crime, but are implicated solely because of a blood relationship with the suspect. Privacy concerns have lead Maryland to ban the use of familial DNA testing as a violation of Fourth Amendment privacy rights.
Familial DNA testing is a very powerful investigative tool that can be use used in a manner that helps make the State of Ohio safer, as evidenced by the arrest of Justin Christian. However, it runs the risk of putting innocent citizens under investigation simply because one of their relatives committed a crime. If you feel you’ve been wrongly targeted in an investigation or charged with a crime, you need an experienced and knowledgeable Columbus criminal defense lawyer to protect your rights.
The Ohio criminal defense lawyers at Luftman, Heck & Associates have years of experience handling a wide range of criminal matters and reaching the best possible outcomes for our clients. Call us today at for a free and confidential consultation.