Pros & Cons of High-Tech DNA Forensics

A new technique that searches DNA databases has generated controversy because it can draw innocent people into criminal investigations.

Credit: Flickr/micahb37

A number of law enforcement officials have hailed the advent of “familial DNA searching” in which genetic material found at a crime scene resembles an existing profile but does not provide an exact match. Civil liberties advocates decry this new addition to DNA forensics as holding the potential for invading the privacy of innocent people.

At a National Institute of Justice Conference in June of 2011, both sides of the issue were presented. Mitch Morrisey, the Denver district attorney, followed by Steven R. Siegel, director of program development at the Denver DA’s office, describe the benefits perceived by some law enforcement officials.  Then Stephen Mercer, chief attorney for the forensics division of Baltimore’s Office of the Public Defender, goes on to delineate some of the drawbacks. A full transcript can be found on the National Institute of Justice Web site.

Click here to listen to the recording.

Moderator: Kristina Rose, Deputy Director, National Institute of Justice


  • Stephen Mercer, Chief Attorney, Forensics Division, Office of the Public Defender, Baltimore, Maryland
  • Mitch Morrissey, District Attorney, Denver District Attorney’s Office

Steven R. Siegel, Director of Program Development, Denver District Attorney’s Office

“So, my primary point is that the expansion of DNA databanks to target innocent people who are largely defined by their race and class for lifelong genetic surveillance is a terribly misguided policy that vastly overshadows the handpicked successes that you have heard about today.”