Pennsylvania prosecutors use TrueAllele in homicide guilty plea

Back to Education

The Changing Face of DNA: The Science, Law and Ethics of Familial Search

R. Freeman, R. Harmon and M.W. Perlin, "The Changing Face of DNA: The Science, Law and Ethics of Familial Search", Duquesne University Forensic Friday, Pittsburgh, PA, 13-May-2011.


This Forensic Friday session, "The Changing Face of DNA: The Science, Law and Ethics of Familial Search", was hosted at Duquesne University on May 13th, 2011.


Investigative and Familial DNA

Video presentation of Professor Ronald Freeman's talk at Duquesne University Forensic Fridays.

Familial DNA Searching

Video presentation of Rock Harmon's talk at Duquesne University Forensic Fridays.

The Science of DNA Search

PowerPoint presentation with live audio recording of Dr. Mark Perlin's talk at Duquesne University Forensic Fridays.

Download Handout
PPTDownload PowerPoint

News Article

Familial DNA considered big help in solving crimes (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Extended Abstract

DNA information can reach across time and space to find hot leads for cold cases. Powerful DNA databases help investigators catch criminals before they strike again, promoting public safety by preventing crime. Newer methods traverse the DNA of a criminal's family. What is the promise and peril of fighting crime with investigative DNA?

On May 13th, the Wecht Institute's Forensic Friday series will hold a full day symposium on "The Changing Face of DNA: The Science, Law and Ethics of Familial Search" at Duquesne University. This continuing legal education (CLE) program will feature leading police investigators, DNA scientists, prosecution and defense lawyers, crime laboratory directors, legislators and scholars. They will explore the power and limitations of investigative DNA databases, and the "familial searching" that finds criminals through their relatives using DNA evidence. Some of these exciting DNA developments are controversial, and all are effective in solving crime.

The leadoff speaker is Ronald Freeman, former Commander of Investigations of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. "Familial DNA search is a potent weapon for police investigation," says Commander Freeman. "The DNA of family members has closed many cases that would have otherwise remained unsolved. Legislation is needed in Pennsylvania to make this procedure routine police practice."

Another prominent speaker is Rock Harmon, the former Alameda County Prosecutor who catalyzed California's adoption of familial search technology, culminating in solving the "Grim Sleeper" case. Prosecutor Harmon is a passionate advocate for familial search, tirelessly teaching courts and legislatures about the need for greater use of DNA databases.

Also speaking is Dr. Mark Perlin, Chief Scientific Officer of Pittsburgh-based Cybergenetics, the leading provider of DNA evidence computer interpretation technology. "DNA databases are an invaluable aid in solving cold cases, like stranger rapes and homicides," says Dr. Perlin. "But so much more can be done to protect the public, just by using more of the information in the DNA evidence we already have." Dr. Perlin will show how DNA can better serve society.

Director Pete Marone of the Virginia Department of Forensic Science will describe how familial searching of DNA databases was recently adopted into law by his state. Federal Public Defender Lisa Freeland will explore the ethics of familial search, and strategies for court challenge. Professor Jay Aronson of Carnegie Mellon University, a noted DNA scholar whose book on the DNA controversy is highly regarded, will moderate a panel discussion.

DNA databases and familial search affect the lives and liberties of all Americans. For more information about this six hour CLE course (including two ethics hours), please visit Forensic Fridays for more information.