New Jersey cops use DNA taken from newborn babies in criminal investigations

from new-New-Jersians-are-material-witnesses department

To be in law enforcement is to be almost criminally obtuse. (We haven’t criminalized this. YET! But when we do…)

They cannot stay out of their own way. The public might be willing to give them a little slack, but they constantly make moves that disinterest them in the people they’re supposed to serve.

DNA evidence is considered the gold standard. This is not the case. But it is considered as such. And now the cops are using all the DNA they can to further investigations. Cops testing DNA samples from crime scenes against samples taken from suspects who have been detained and advised of their rights? Good.

Run samples on private DNA databases with puppet accounts to avoid scrutiny of their actions? Not cool. Running rape the victims DNA via criminal databases? Certainly not cool.

And now there is this: just one more example of how little the law enforcement community cares about public perception. Here is Corin Faife with The Verge details.

New Jersey police may have used blood samples taken from babies to investigate crimes, according to public defenders for the state.

According to a court case filed by the New Jersey Office of the Public Defender (OPD), the practice came to light after a case in which the New Jersey State Police successfully assigned a testing lab for a blood sample taken from a child . Police then carried out a DNA analysis on the blood sample which is believed to have linked the child’s father to a crime committed more than 25 years ago.

The suspect then became a client of the OPD, who alerted the office to the techniques used to identify the man. The lawsuit, filed jointly by the OPD and the New Jersey Monitor, now seeks to compel the state of New Jersey to release information about the full extent of the practice.

There is no withdrawal from this collection, as Faife points out. State law mandates the collection of blood from infants to screen them for 60 different disorders. These samples are processed by the state and the data is passed on to parents and the state health system.

Supposedly, the cops aren’t supposed to have access to these samples, at least not directly. But it appears law enforcement is indirectly accessing those records, perhaps by issuing subpoenas to the state health agency.

This is what the New Jersey Office of the Public Defender and its co-plaintiff, the New Jersey Monitor, allege in their court case [PDF] against the New Jersey Department of Health and the lab processing these mandatory samples. Both entities are looking for public records related to law enforcement access to this test data — records to which the state has previously denied them access.

Alarmed by this practice which it firmly believes to be an illegal search, the OPD is seeking to know how often state agencies use the Newborn Screening Lab as an investigative tool for its prosecution. to circumvent the constitutional rights of defendants to be exempt from warrantless search and seizure. .

[…]

The defendants refused to produce redacted documents, nor to produce a Vaughn index. Thus, they deprived the OPD of any information regarding the extent of the forensic practice of using newborn blood samples from the Newborn Screening Laboratory. The OPD needs this information to effectively defend its indigent clients against warrantless searches and seizures.

There is certainly no informed consent before the blood tests. Parents are also not informed that these samples will be kept for an extended period. Although the blood can be discarded after the test, a “residual dried blood spot” (from which DNA can be obtained) remains in the hands of the Ministry of Health for 23 years. Parents are also not informed of this extended storage period.

As the lawsuit points out, the 1996 “cold case” investigation had generated a small list of suspects. But since investigators had no probable reason to obtain DNA from the suspects, they opted to approach the Department of Health to see what DNA they could obtain from samples still stored by the agency. Working backwards from the newborn’s DNA, investigators zeroed in on one suspect. At no point did anyone seem to consider the Fourth Amendment implications of using non-consensual blood samples from infants to circumvent warrant requirements for DNA samples from much older suspects.

It is unclear whether or not this was a one-time duty reduction. But the state’s refusal to hand over the records suggests this is not an anomaly. If it was a single case, it could be dismissed as a misguided move by an investigator. But if that’s common practice – and there’s no reason to believe it isn’t, at least not at this point – there’s a whole bagful of “pattern and practice” disputes directed towards the state.

If this litigation ultimately reveals that this is common practice, it will again prove that the highest calling for law enforcement remains “may” rather than “should.”

Filed Under: criminal investigations, dna, evidence, new jersey, nj opd, office of the public defender

Mark M. Gagnon