Have you ever unknowingly touched a crime scene?

Jun 2014
46,526
46,246
United States
#1
Perhaps you've spit on a sidewalk, or bled on someone's lawn. If you have, and a crime happens to occur in that same location, you could become a suspect. Advances in DNA comparison technology has helped to free innocent people who were wrongly convicted of crimes. It has also helped to convict the guilty when little other evidence existed to prove their guilt. Unfortunately, it has also, in some cases, helped to convict the innocent. We leave behind traces of our DNA pretty much everywhere we go, and this puts each and every one of us in peril of being accused of participating in a crime of which we had no knowledge whatsoever.

The recent arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo in California was made possible by comparing DNA samples from crime scenes to a database of DNA samples that people had voluntarily contributed in order to search for lost or forgotten relatives. DeAngelo himself had apparently never volunteered his own DNA sample to this database, but one or more of his relatives had. When police discovered a distant familial relationship between one of the donors to the Florida-based GEDmatch database and the DNA that they had collected from various cold case crime scenes, it lead them to covertly gather discarded samples of DeAngelo's DNA for further comparison. Upon finding a match with the discarded DNA samples, they then proceeded to demand a sample directly from DeAngelo. Upon finding that his sample matched the crime scene DNA, he was arrested and charged with numerous murders and rapes.

Genealogy site didn’t know it was used to seek serial killer

I have no reason to doubt that DeAngelo is guilty of the crimes for which he has been charged, but there is legitimate reason for concern that this technology could be abused. Have you ever given a second thought to the trail of DNA that you leave in your wake, just going about your ordinary, day to day business?
 
Likes: 2 people

Wonderer

Council Hall
May 2014
29,204
19,638
Missouri
#2
Usually, I'm more mindful of the DNA (and germs) left behind by others. :sick:

But this article raises a good point. In addition to the interesting twist of Ancestry/23&Me databases being used unwittingly, which raises its own issues to ponder.
 
Likes: 1 person
Dec 2014
13,607
11,177
NWOHQ
#3
One would hope that the agencies and judiciary would exercise some logic in assessing the DNA evidence and discuss the various possibilities that may arise in each situation. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that DNA evidence could be planted and I'm sure that the DNA evidence from public crime scenes (sidewalks, theatres or whatever) would be assessed under the understanding of the many possibilities that could exist in such a scenario.
 
Likes: 2 people
Jun 2014
46,526
46,246
United States
#4
Usually, I'm more mindful of the DNA (and germs) left behind by others. :sick:

But this article raises a good point. In addition to the interesting twist of Ancestry/23&Me databases being used unwittingly, which raises its own issues to ponder.

It is my understanding that neither Ancestry nor 23&Me directly contributed to the GEDmatch database, but that they had provided the DNA profiles to the people who chose to share them with GEDmatch. Still, I'm leery of sharing a DNA sample with either of those two companies, since they consider your DNA profile to be their property once you have paid them to accept a sample. If they want my DNA profile in their databases, then I think they should be paying me for the sample.
 
Likes: 4 people

Macduff

Moderator
Apr 2010
93,951
31,747
Pittsburgh, PA
#5
I'm just worried about all the serial killer business that this is going to cost 23&Me.
 
Jun 2011
49,152
20,599
God Bless Texas
#6
i have never thought about it. I don't even think I have seen fictional crime shows or movies depicting this.
 

Macduff

Moderator
Apr 2010
93,951
31,747
Pittsburgh, PA
#7
We throw away DNA samples all the time, thinks like used razors or napkins. And courts have said that police can do whatever they want with your garbage. I was watching a show about one guy police were trying to connect to a crime. They followed him around hoping to get a DNA sample. Like maybe he'd discard a cigarette butt or something like that. He went to a bar and it was like he knew they were on to him he only ate finger foods and he pockets the napkins that he used. He finally used a fork to eat something and they go a hold of it. It's pretty much impossible to not leave a DNA sample somewhere.
 
Dec 2015
15,662
11,206
SoCal
#8
Perhaps you've spit on a sidewalk, or bled on someone's lawn. If you have, and a crime happens to occur in that same location, you could become a suspect. Advances in DNA comparison technology has helped to free innocent people who were wrongly convicted of crimes. It has also helped to convict the guilty when little other evidence existed to prove their guilt. Unfortunately, it has also, in some cases, helped to convict the innocent. We leave behind traces of our DNA pretty much everywhere we go, and this puts each and every one of us in peril of being accused of participating in a crime of which we had no knowledge whatsoever.

The recent arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo in California was made possible by comparing DNA samples from crime scenes to a database of DNA samples that people had voluntarily contributed in order to search for lost or forgotten relatives. DeAngelo himself had apparently never volunteered his own DNA sample to this database, but one or more of his relatives had. When police discovered a distant familial relationship between one of the donors to the Florida-based GEDmatch database and the DNA that they had collected from various cold case crime scenes, it lead them to covertly gather discarded samples of DeAngelo's DNA for further comparison. Upon finding a match with the discarded DNA samples, they then proceeded to demand a sample directly from DeAngelo. Upon finding that his sample matched the crime scene DNA, he was arrested and charged with numerous murders and rapes.

Genealogy site didn’t know it was used to seek serial killer

I have no reason to doubt that DeAngelo is guilty of the crimes for which he has been charged, but there is legitimate reason for concern that this technology could be abused. Have you ever given a second thought to the trail of DNA that you leave in your wake, just going about your ordinary, day to day business?
It is interesting that the killer rapist's crime spree ended in 1986:

DNA profiling was originally developed as a method of determining paternity, in which samples taken under clinical conditions were examined for genetic evidence that could link parent to child. It first made its way into the courts in 1986, when police in England asked molecular biologist Alec Jeffreys, who had begun investigating the use of DNA for forensics, to use DNA to verify the confession of a 17 year-old boy in two rape-murders in the English Midlands. The tests proved the teenager was in fact not the perpetrator and the actual attacker was eventually caught, also using DNA testing.

https://www.forensicmag.com/article...rime-solving-judicial-and-legislative-history
 
Jun 2011
49,152
20,599
God Bless Texas
#9
We throw away DNA samples all the time, thinks like used razors or napkins. And courts have said that police can do whatever they want with your garbage. I was watching a show about one guy police were trying to connect to a crime. They followed him around hoping to get a DNA sample. Like maybe he'd discard a cigarette butt or something like that. He went to a bar and it was like he knew they were on to him he only ate finger foods and he pockets the napkins that he used. He finally used a fork to eat something and they go a hold of it. It's pretty much impossible to not leave a DNA sample somewhere.
I remember that. A true crime show or documentary. I forget now why he slipped up and left something on a fork.
 
Jul 2013
1,326
1,776
U.S.A.
#10
Yes, I have given thought to the trail of DNA I leave behind me on a daily basis. :._smile: I recall getting into a big debate -- on another site -- with a person who thought it was fine and dandy that the government was collecting DNA data and compiling it all into a comprehensive database. All the better to catch previously uncatchable criminals, he said. And he was correct. That technology will allow the police to apprehend individuals who otherwise would've gotten away. On the other hand...

In that case the person I was talking to happened to be gay. So, let's recall that engaging in same-sex sexual activities was a crime in some parts of the country until 2003. Heck, it was a crime everywhere until the late '50s. What if, I asked him, in the '50s the government had the ability to sweep a known location of homosexual activity for DNA and match those samples to a database of ordinary citizens? In that scenario, the government would have had a vastly greater ability to identify and punish "criminals", but it's doubtful that many folks today would see that as a good thing. As I recall, I never did get a good answer to that hypothetical.

This genie is already out of the bottle, I fear. We're hurtling headlong toward a future in which privacy as we've understood it for decades or even centuries is a thing of the past. In some ways we're already there. One way or another, I think we have a profound choice to make in the next 10 or 20 or 30 years. Either we somehow create space for tolerance of profound, visible differences or else we create a society designed to root out, ostracize, and ultimately minimize if not eliminate significant social irritants. The choice is ours.

Personally, I think society is rather like an oyster. If you eliminate irritants you also eliminate pearls.

Cheers.