The First Department, in a full-fledged opinion by Justice Gische, reversing Supreme Court, over a full-fledged two-justice dissenting opinion, determined the respondent agencies exceeded their regulatory powers when they authorized the release of so-called “familial DNA” information to be used as a possible lead for identifying the perpetrator of a crime. In the absence of a DNA “match” or a “partial match” a “familial match” may indicate the perpetrator has a familial relationship with someone in the DNA database. A crucial threshold question was whether the petitioners, relatives of persons whose genetic profiles are in the New York State DNA database, had standing to contest the familial DNA regulations. The dissenters argued the petitioners did not have standing. The majority concluded the basis for the familial DNA regulations was primarily social policy, and therefore the regulations were legislative, rather than administrative, in nature:
Each petitioner’s brother has genetic information stored in the DNA databank. Neither petitioner has been asked or mandated to provide DNA for comparison. Because they are law abiding citizens, neither petitioner knows if they have been targeted for investigation as a result of a familial DNA search, but they harbor great concern and anxiety that they might be investigated for no other reason than that they share family genetics with a convicted criminal … . * * *
We are not required to determine whether respondents made a good or beneficial policy decision. The fact that the decisions respondents made are by their very nature policy driven, greatly favors a conclusion that they were made in excess of respondents’ authority. Matter of Stevens v New York State Div. of Criminal Justice Servs., 2022 NY Slip Op 03062, First Dept 5-5-22
Practice Point: Relatives of persons in the NYS DNA database had standing to challenge the regulations issued by the respondent agencies allowing the release of “familial DNA match” information linking DNA from a crime scene to a family, not an individual.
Practice Point: The “familial DNA match” regulations were deemed to be rooted in social policy, which is the realm of the legislature, and therefore the promulgation of the regulations exceeded the agencies’ powers.