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DOJ preparing for familial DNA testing (UPDATE)

APPLETON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Department of Justice is preparing to start familial DNA tests in hopes of generating more leads for local police, raising concerns from privacy advocates.

Post-Crescent Media reported Wednesday that the agency is double-checking the software for the tests. Local police and prosecutors would have to request the process, DOJ Division of Law Enforcement Services said.

“We’re getting to the point where we will start offering this,” O’Keefe said. “This is something that, when we’ve exhausted all leads, it could still give law enforcement a way to go after (a suspect).”

A handful of states, including California, Colorado, Texas and Virginia, use familial DNA testing, which consists of running DNA from an unknown suspect through state and federal databases in hopes of getting a partial match with someone already in the systems. Such a match would reveal a relative.

For example, an unknown offender’s DNA may not match anyone in the databases but analysts might be able to establish a partial match with the offender’s son if the son had been incarcerated and his DNA was in the system. Police could then question the son in hopes he would lead them to his father.

“The familial testing doesn’t tell us who the suspect is. There’s a lot of interviews and work that needs to be done — even with the familial results,” O’Keefe said.

Wisconsin American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Chris Ahmuty called familial DNA testing a “fishing expedition.” He said the process is unwarranted and the Legislature should have signed off on using it.

Keith Findley, co-director of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, which works to exonerate innocent people convicted of crimes, said the procedure could help sole cold cases but he’s concerned about its implications.

“It’s a mixed bag, but one I would be very cautious about,” Findley said. “The real question is if the narrow benefits trump the social costs.”

Information from: Post-Crescent Media, http://www.postcrescent.com

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