On the Law and Order: Los Angeles episode titled “Ballona Creek”, which aired on November 17, 2010, the murder of city employee Don Heller, uncovers a cold case and prompts a serial killer to come out of retirement.  The cold case leads to a string of murders in South Central before 1991.  All of the victims were females and all were stabbed to death. Fortunately, Detective Winters and Detective Jaruszalski find a survivor whose case seems to fit the killer’s profile.  Diana McDermott barely survived her gruesome attack in 1991.  When the detectives interview McDermott she remembers her attacker sucked on her bra, but not much else.   The detectives are soon called to a nearby crime scene where the victim is missing her bra and was stabbed to death.  The similar crime scene prompts the detectives to conclude that the serial killer is out of retirement.  The detectives rush back to the evidence room to see if they can find any trace of the attacker.

While digging through the old evidence, the detectives find a couple of bras belonging to the victims.  Remembering what Ms. McDermott said in her interview, the detectives submit the bras for DNA testing. At the time of the 1991 murders, the LAPD had not begun pulling DNA off the victims.  When the DNA found on the bra did not match any criminals in the system, the detectives requested a familial DNA search.  The familial DNA search produced one match that does eventually lead to the arrest of the violent serial killer.

The use of Familial DNA is a very controversial issue in California at this time.  The familial DNA search works by searching the crime scene sample against convicted offenders in the state database to see if they can be related to the crime scene sample. The convicted offenders are compared to the crime scene sample by looking at how many of the DNA markers are shared and how rare the markers are.  The technique recently led to the arrest of Lonnie Franklin Jr. in connection with 10 murders in the “Grim Sleeper” killings that terrorized Los Angeles over twenty five years ago. Police were led to Franklin through his son’s DNA; his son had been arrested on unrelated charges. The Los Angeles Police Department then confirmed the lab’s finding by taking the suspect’s personal DNA.

Although it remains to be seen whether Franklin will be convicted, supporters of the Attorney General’s program argue that the suspect would still be at large but for the familial search program. However, critics of familial DNA argue that it is racially discriminatory and invades privacy.

The California Attorney General has imposed restrictions on the use of familial DNA testing.  The familial DNA searches are only allowed for violent crimes in which the perpetrator is still believed to be a danger to society. Furthermore, the technique has only been used ten times since its inception in November 2008.  California and Colorado are currently the only two states that use familial DNA searches.  However its recent success in California may prompt other states to adopt this method.  In fact, a California congressman recently introduced the following bill that would allow the FBI to use familial DNA searches.

The Utilizing DNA Technology to Solve Cold Cases Act of 2010

To direct the Attorney General to design and implement a procedure to permit enhanced searches of the National DNA Index System.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


This Act may be cited as the ‘Utilizing DNA Technology to Solve Cold Cases Act of 2010’.


(a) Familial Searches-

(1) IN GENERAL- Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Attorney General shall adopt policies and procedures in accordance with this section to ensure that–

(A) the Federal Bureau of Investigation may conduct familial searches for DNA samples collected from crime scenes in Federal investigations;

(B) a State law enforcement agency may request that the Federal Bureau of Investigation conduct familial searches for DNA samples collected from crime scenes in State investigations; and

(C) the privacy interests of persons identified in familial searches are carefully protected.

(2) SEARCH REQUIREMENTS- Familial searches conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation under this section shall be conducted only under the following circumstances:

(A) No identical match for the DNA sample collected from a crime scene can be identified in the offender index.

(B) The investigation for which DNA samples are collected at a crime scene involves one or more of the following offenses under Federal or State law:

(i) An offense of murder, voluntary manslaughter, or any attempt to commit murder or voluntary manslaughter.

(ii) A specified offense against a minor (as such term is defined in section 111(7) of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (42 U.S.C. 16911(7))), or an attempt to commit such a specified offense.

(iii) An offense or attempt to commit an offense that–

(I) involves a sexual act or sexual contact with another; and

(II) is punishable by imprisonment for more than one year.

(3) REQUESTING STATE LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCY- A State law enforcement agency making a request for a familial search under this section shall–

(A) before making such request, have in place a written policy that–

(i) establishes the criteria and procedures for requesting a familial search and for evaluating a familial match; and

(ii) is consistent with any regulations issued by the Attorney General pursuant to this section; and

(B) each time a familial search request is made, make such policy available to the Attorney General.

(4) REPORTING OF MATCHES- Any familial match resulting from a request for a familial search that complies with the requirements of this section shall be reported to a laboratory authorized as a Combined DNA Index System laboratory in the jurisdiction of the State law enforcement agency requesting information related to such match.

(b) Report- Not later than one year after the date of the enactment    of this Act, and annually thereafter, the Attorney General shall submit to the chair and ranking member of the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives and the Committee on the Judiciary of the Senate a report on compliance with this section. Each such report shall contain the following information:

(1) The number of familial searches requested by State law enforcement agencies.

(2) The number of familial searches conducted under this section.

(3) The number of familial matches found as a result of such searches.

(4) The status of any case in which such a familial match was found.

(c) Regulations- Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Attorney General shall issue regulations to carry out this section.

(d) Definitions- In this section:

(1) The term ‘familial search’ means a search of the offender index in which a DNA sample from an unknown source collected from a crime scene is compared to such offender index to determine if a familial match exists between the DNA profile contained in such index and the DNA sample collected from the crime scene.

(2) The term ‘familial match’ means–

(A) a match of at least 1 shared allele at 15 loci between a DNA profile in the offender index and a DNA sample collected at a crime scene; or

(B) any other genetic association the Attorney General determines is sufficient to constitute such a match.

(3) The term ‘offender index’ means the database containing information on individuals convicted of sex offenses and other violent crimes in the National DNA Index System established under section 210304 of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (Public Law 103-322, 108 Stat. 1796).

(4) The term ‘State’ means each of the several States, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the United States Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.