Lawsuit asks how police use DNA data from NJ newborn blood database
A lawsuit that was recently filed is asking how often police departments in New Jersey use DNA from blood samples taken from newborn babies to build criminal cases against their family members.
The suit was filed by the New Jersey Office of the Public Defender. The agency wants to know if screenings that are mandatory to test 100,000 newborns ever year are being used to sidestep constitutional rights.
"There are so many dangers when we talk about…having easy access to people's genetic material,” says Jennifer Sellitti, of the Office of the Public Defender. “To me, I don't think that's worth the risk.”
Sellitti says that most of the time, parents aren't even told that blood is being taken and what it's going to be used for.
Hospitals around the state draw blood from newborns to test for 60 different types of diseases. The blood samples are kept by the state for up to 23 years. But in at least one case, the public defender's office is alleging the State Police obtained a sample from the newborn database to analyze whether it tied the child's father to a crime committed in 1996.
“So it's kind of like side-stepping around the search warrant, where they don't have enough probable cause to go after a specific person,” Sellitti says.
A parent and a biological child share 50% of the same DNA. This would be enough to get a search warrant to get the suspect's DNA. The public defender thinks this may be a violation of the Fourth Amendment protecting against unreasonable searches.
“So there's a very, very low standard to a subpoena. It's an investigative tool, as opposed to probable cause, which is a much, much stricter standard,” Sellitti says.
It's unclear if acting Attorney General Matt Platkin will oppose the lawsuit or grant the request. The Attorney General's Office did not return a request for comment from News 12 New Jersey on Monday.
The public defender's office wants to know how many times police have tried this tactic and what else the newborn blood samples may be used for.
“We don't know the extent of this. We don't know how exactly how widespread this practice is of using blood from the newborn database,” says Sellitti.
The child whose newborn sample was used by the State Police is now 9 years old. The first court hearing in the case is scheduled for Sept. 8.