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News Posted on July 13, 2010

Professor Joh Writes Op-Ed for LA Times on DNA Evidence

Professor Elizabeth Joh published an essay in the July 10 edition of the Los Angeles Times on the potential dangers to civil liberties posed by the unchecked use of DNA evidence.  Citing techniques used by police in collecting DNA evidence against Lonnie David Franklin, Jr., who has been charged with a series of "Grim Sleeper" murders in the Los Angeles area, Professor Joh asserts that the use of DNA evidence "is outpacing laws regulating it."

Investigators in the Franklin case made use of familial DNA searches, in which matching DNA evidence is used to establish that the perpetrator of a crime is a member of a particular family.  "With familial searches, the only reason the police identify their suspect is because he is genetically related to someone in a DNA database," writes Professor Joh. "If that sounds like guilt by association, it is."

The investigation also included use of "abandoned" DNA Franklin left on food and eating utensils, highlighting the fact that few rules exist as to how police may collect involuntarily shed DNA, Professor Joh writes.  In addition, Los Angeles police have also engaged in "DNA dragnets," in which suspects were arrested primarily for the purpose of collecting DNA samples.

"There's no doubt that DNA evidence gives the police an important tool.... The trouble is that we are rushing forward with these uses of DNA evidence with little consideration of the ever-increasing scope of genetic surveillance over our citizens," writes Professor Joh.

Elizabeth Joh is a Professor of Law at UC Davis School of Law who researches in the areas of criminal law and procedure. She has special interests in the fields of policing, criminal justice privatization, and the sociology of law.

Los Angeles Times op-ed, "The Grim Sleeper and DNA: There's much to be concerned about"