Can Home DNA Tests Be Used as Evidence in a Court of Law?
Home DNA tests like 23andMe and Ancestry.com have grown in popularity in recent years, sometimes offering never-before-seen insight into family origins, race, and unknown relatives. This can be fun and exciting for some, life-changing for others.
Plenty of people, whether it’s on Cape Cod, or in Plymouth, Boston or elsewhere potentially descend from passengers on the Mayflower who hailed from all parts of Europe and beyond. Unfortunately, the paperwork for many of these passengers was lost over time and connections became segregated. But with technology and DNA advancements, there are now thousands if not millions of stories of people discovering who they really are, where they truly come from, and finding long-lost relatives. Many of these discoveries end in tears of joy, some in confusion and some in family court.
Ancestry Discovery Can Be Fun, But Take Heed
As a warning, the 23andMe website disclaimer under the family section states: “Looking at your genetic data might uncover information that some people find surprising. This information can be relatively benign. At other times, the information you learn can have profound implications for both you and your family… In a similar way, genetic information can also reveal that someone you thought you were related to is not your biological relative. This happens most frequently in the case of paternity, where someone learns that their biological father is not who they thought it was.”
Though these home DNA tests can be a fun idea for a Christmas present or a great soul-searching experiment for an individual who wants to learn more about their family heritage, this warning from 23andMe is basically saying “proceed with caution”. Along with these beautiful stories of discovery come some damaging results uncovering hidden things like unknown adoptions and secret affairs. This raises the question: Where does the home DNA test fit into a trial in a court of law?
Home DNA Test Results in a Court of Law?
As stated, many of these home DNA test results tend to revolve around cases of “… paternity, where someone learns that their biological father is not who they thought it was.” It is no surprise that a discovery like this can break a family up and likely wind them up in family court sorting out the details like alimony, child support and property division.
Since DNA evidence is considered expert evidence, meaning it is based on formal and/or special study, training, or experience, it would require the scientifically admissible testimony of an expert in a court of law. The results of a do-it-yourself home DNA test don’t have the same safeguards necessary for completely accurate results and would likely not be sufficient in any court. The results however, may be useful in determining whether to request a court order for a formal “chain of custody” DNA test to prove the relationship of those involved.
What Is Chain of Custody DNA Testing?
Chain of custody testing is also known as legally admissible DNA testing. The term ‘Chain of Custody’ does not refer to the custody of children. ‘Chain of Custody’ refers to how the DNA sample is handled for it to qualify as court-admissible evidence. Here are some of the safeguards involved with Chain of Custody testing:
- A neutral third party, with zero connection to any of the parties involved, is appointed to verify the identity of the individual(s) and to collect their DNA sample(s).
- Identification papers must be signed and these along with the DNA samples are delivered to the appointed testing location with provisions to ensure that no tampering occurs.
- The samples are then tracked and documented throughout the testing procedure.
Assuming all of these procedures are strictly followed, followed to the letter, the appointed laboratory may issue notarized test results which can then be used in a court proceeding.