DNA evidence bill on DeSantis’ desk could limit use of info from genetic databases in criminal cases

Florida

El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson displays a generic genetic DNA ribbon as he discusses how new DNA evidence was used to help exonerate a man who spent about 15 years in prison after being wrongly convicted of killing his housemate, during a news conference in Placerville, Calif., Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020. Ricky Davis was convicted in 2004 of second degree murder in the stabbing death of a newspaper columnist. But the conviction was thrown out after new evidence was found implicating another person. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The use of genetic evidence to solve cold cases has had a surge of popularity in the media and among law enforcement agencies, helping officers bring justice to alleged criminals from decades past.

Maryland and Montana both passed laws limiting the use of DNA databases in criminal cases this year. Now, Florida is poised to be the next state to sign such a bill into law, with the decision awaiting a simple signature from Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Despite the positives that have made headlines in multiple states and nationally, like the arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo, the Golden State Killer in California, some state legislatures have begun passing laws to limit the use of DNA evidence taken from genetic databases, such as Ancestry.com, GEDmatch – which law enforcement used to find DeAngelo – or 23andMe.

It’s not the only case where DNA evidence was used to charge someone with murder or rape, or to identify victims in long-standing cold cases.

Where the legislation comes in is privacy protection. A lot of times, the companies that obtain and compare genetic information have users automatically opt-in to allow their samples to be shared with law enforcement.

After DeAngelo was charged, NBC News reported that GEDmatch put out a statement about the importance of understanding the uses of DNA, as related to crime solving.

“While the database was created for genealogical research, it is important that GEDmatch participants understand the possible uses of their DNA, including identification of relatives that have committed crimes or were victims of crimes,” the statement said. “If you are concerned about non-genealogical uses of your DNA, you should not upload your DNA to the database and/or you should remove DNA that has already been uploaded

Statement from GEDmatch.com about DNA databases and crime solving.

Florida’s bill, HB 833, would require DNA samples to be defined as the “exclusive property” of the person who submitted the sample. Under the proposed law, the person whose DNA is being tested must give their “express consent” to authorize the extraction or analysis.

If that consent is given, the bill says that the “single express consent may authorize every instance of a specified purpose or use.” Basically, if you consent to a DNA analysis and provide a sample, that single instance of consent could authorize multiple tests or uses of the genetic material.

The bill also sets penalties for unauthorized use of the DNA.

Under HB 833, if you submit someone else’s DNA for analysis or testing without their permission, you’d be committing a third-degree felony. Storing someone else’s DNA for analysis would also be a crime, a first-degree misdemeanor. Selling someone else’s genetic material for analysis or storage would also be illegal, whether or not the original sample was originally collected or tested with the express consent of the donor. Violating this part of the law would be a second-degree felony.

Each violation of the proposed law would stand as separate violations, and be subject to separate penalties. Both felonies would be subject to potential fines and prison time.

That said, the law specifies that in cases involving criminal prosecution or investigation, complying with a subpoena, summons, or court order and complying with federal law would not fall under punishable actions.

DNA testing done with provided samples for medical diagnosis or treatment, such as determining paternity or conducting research is also exempted, so long as express consent has been given.

Genetic material collected and maintained for research purposes, and “deidentified” is allowed to remain in storage under the proposed law.

Should DeSantis sign it into law, HB 833 would take effect Oct. 1, 2021.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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