In April 2012, Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice proposed a law to allow use of DNA familial search to strengthen police investigations of grave unresolved criminal cases (Maguire et al. 8). In a matter of days of this law being passed, the police and the Netherlands Forensic Institute used the DNA familial search procedure to augment the investigation of an unsolved rape and murder of Marianne Vaastra, a 16 year old girl, which happened in 1999 (Maguire et al. 8).
The case was very controversial in the Netherlands. It took 13 years to lead to the arrest of the perpetrator, after many suspects had been arrested and set free because of lack of evidence (Bonaparte). The case was extensively reported in the media at the time. Even though a manÆs DNA was collected at the crime scene, there was no match in the national DNA database of criminals (Bonaparte). This made it impossible to ascertain his identity, but the characteristics of the DNA made investigators believe that the criminal resided in the local area.
Investigators believed that as the crime occurred in a rural area of northern Holland, the criminal was a man well versed in the local terrain and surroundings (Maguire et al. 8). A complete DNA profile believed to belong to the criminal was obtained from evidential substance left at the scene of crime. Three approaches to inquiry were launched and carried out. At first, an autosomal STR familial search of the National DNA database, Y-STR examination and the comparison of men picked from the Dutch DNA database on the basis of place of birth or residency and Y-STR on the basis of uncommon family names from the area where the crime had taken place (Maguire et al. 8).
In both cases, all the potential suspects were eliminated from the investigation. In October 2012 the Minister of Security and Justice stated that DNA samples would be taken from about 8,000 men who had not been living within a 5 kilometer radius of where the victimÆs body was found back in 1999 (Maguire et al. 8). Effectively, these 8,000 samples were used as the case-specific DNA database (Maguire et al. 8). At first, these samples were matched up to the target DNA sample by use of Y-STR profiling technique to rule out all but paternally linked individuals. This method did not only quickly establish possible relatives of the criminal (Maguire et al. 8). An autosomal DNA equivalent was obtained with one person, 45 year old local man Jasper Steringa (Maguire et al. 8). He was apprehended and convicted of the murder and rape of Marianne Vaastra.
There is nothing that Jasper Streinger would have done to evade being captured with the familial search DNA testing. The police extended their search from comparing DNA evidence to known criminals to area residents. Even if he moved from his home area, he would still have been identified because authorities would have asked of his whereabouts to match his DNA. DNA is usually deposited at crime scenes and is also left everywhere (Forensic Genetics Policy Initiative). Retention of DNA from an individual on a database facilitates a system of biological biosurveillance which can be used to try to identify whether they were at the scene of the crime (Forensic Genetics Policy Initiative). It means that DNA database can be used to trace individuals who did not actually commit the crime.
In the familial search process for DNA, police begin by identifying a case where Familial Search would be effective in yielding an investigative potential and for which appropriate DNA matter suspected to be of the real perpetrator is available (Maguire et al. 5). The investigators then obtain the required permission from the Chairman of National DNA database and in some cases, mostly in cases of sexual assault, also from the victim (Maguire et al. 5). The National DNA Database custodian gives the forensic science supplier with a sample of the DNA which is put in a server that has software that can run parent-child-sibling algorithms and produce the relevant likelihood ratios (Maguire et al. 5). This equipment is located at the office of the National DNA Database custodian. Absolutely no data found within the server or linked to the parent-child-sibling data subset obtained by the familia search process can be removed from the office (Maguire et al. 5). In the Forensic Science Service practice, forensic intelligence bureau employees carry out the familial search process, running the parent-child-sibling algorithms and producing four data reports (Maguire et al. 5). Two of the four are unsorted data sets organized according to Likelihood Ratio and two sorted data sets organized according to Likelihood Ratio and other non-genetic categories in collaboration with police investigation terms, for instance, age and place of residence (Maguire et al. 5). The custodian takes these data and add on to them case specific demographic information such as gender and age in reference to sample specific barcodes (Maguire et al. 5). This information is the encrypted and kept away to await a meeting of the relevant law enforcing bodies.
A concluding meeting is the organized between the Forensic Science Service, police investigators, intelligence, and the National DNA Database custodian (Maguire et al. 5). The results are then revealed and discussed. This is where investigative priorities are decided and more forensic support is obtained where necessary. Where there is DNA available from both the victim and the perpetrator and there being systems to ascertain conclusive DNA match, it is impossible to slip through the cracks of familial DNA search.
When familial DNA search is used with the kind of systems safeguards of the type describes, familial search of forensic DNA database agrees with the accepted ethical standards of non-malfeasance and beneficence it provides solid intelligence information to enhance fair prosecution and conviction of criminals and accords justice to victims of crime. It easily excludes innocent people from police investigations and finds true offenders. It promotes peopleÆs rights to justice. The use of more genetic testing Y-STR helps to do away with false conclusions and unnecessary intrusion.
- DNA Databases and Human Rights. Forensic Genetics Policy Initiative 2014. Accessed from http://dnapolicyinitiative.org/resources/dna-databases-and-human-rights/ 14 June 2017
- Familial Search: Solving a 13 year old cold case. Bonaparte. 2017. Accessed from https://www.bonaparte-dvi.com/famcasestudy.php 14 June 2017
- Maguire, Christopher N., et al. “Familial searching: A specialist forensic DNA profiling service utilising the National DNA Database« to identify unknown offenders via their relativesùThe UK experience.” Forensic Science International: Genetics 8.1 (2014): 1-9.
- M’charek, Amade. “Contrasts and comparisons: three practices of forensic investigation.” Comparative Sociology 7.3 (2008): 387-412.