Last year, DNA from an infant’s blood sample was used to track down a sex crime suspect in New Jersey. Public defenders in that state are now trying to discover through an open records lawsuit how often law enforcement agencies have used blood samples taken from infants through a mandatory health screening program to support criminal investigations.
Health departments in all 50 states and the District of Columbia collect blood samples from newborns and test them for metabolic and genetic disorders. In New Jersey, all newborns are tested unless parents opt out on religious grounds.
In at least one instance, the New Jersey State Police subpoenaed the laboratory in charge of the screening program and used a baby’s blood sample to create a genealogical map that allowed detectives to locate a man accused of a 1996 rape, according to a suit filed in New Jersey Superior Court last week.
While there are documented cases of police trying to obtain infant blood samples from state health departments’ labs, the one in New Jersey is among the first known criminal cases where the practice has led to the prosecution of a suspect.
The public defender lawsuit and the underlying criminal investigation expose slippery slopes between health care and surveillance, genetic genealogy and privacy, and between the need to solve crimes and people’s constitutional rights to due process.
“The danger is that you have the opportunity here for the police, potentially, to circumvent the warrant requirements,” Jennifer Sellitti, the director of training and communications for the New