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DNA testing and the future of criminal investigations

Could the police obtain your DNA evidence without ever approaching you directly? They can. Although it's only been done a few times, DNA evidence obtained through agencies that provide consumers with at-home genetic testing kits has already been successfully used by investigators to crack some long-running criminal cases wide open.

In late 2018, police were able to track down a 72-year-old man who was wanted in connection to at least 45 rapes and 12 murders back in the 1970s and 1980s. The so-called "Golden State Killer" turned out to be a former policeman.

Police officers used genetic records that were obtained through a public database to narrow down their list of suspects to a small group of people. They then pursued a more direct genetic sample through surreptitious methods to verify that he was the person they were seeking.

At least 25 other cold cases have been also been solved this way. In all those cases, police were able to track down their targets initially through a relative's DNA and some careful investigation -- not from a suspect's own DNA.

In the past, police investigators have relied on public databases to which people have voluntarily submitted their genetic information -- often in the hope of finding long-lost relatives. Now, however, the genetic testing companies are showing signs of playing along with authorities. At least one major genetic testing service, FamilyTreeDNA, now allows police to search its databases at will.

For anyone concerned about their personal privacy, this should be concerning. Your genetic evidence could end up part of a criminal investigation and trial -- even if you did nothing wrong yourself. There are also concerns that genetic records could be incorrect or somehow corrupted. This could put innocent people in investigators' sights.

These days, you simply never know what type of evidence might come up against you in a criminal trial. If you've been charged with a federal crime -- or are under investigation -- it has become increasingly important to seek legal counsel as soon as possible.

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