Fox Family Lawyers
Cynthia Moseley Fox
Attorney at Law
7751 Carondelet Avenue,
Suite 700
Clayton, Missouri 63105
(St. Louis)
314.727.4880

DNA Paternity Tests Can Be Wrong

The story of Andre Chreky–a celebrity hairdresser in Washington, D.C., whose clients are said to have included Laura Bush–brought me up short.

 

According to newspaper accounts, Chreky insisted that, DNA evidence claiming to be 99.99% conclusive to the contrary, he was not the father of a son born to a woman he had dated many years before. He appealed her paternity suit’s judgment against him, and a judge in Fairfax County, Virginia, let him off the hook.

           

According to the Washington Post, evidence presented at Chreky’s 2005 trial showed that Laboratory Corporation of America, which tested his DNA, had “only five people reviewing the data and making paternity determinations.” One supervisor testified that he issued “an average of one paternity report every four minutes during a 10-hour shift.” In ruling for Chreky, Judge David T. Stitt called the lab’s work “shoddy,” the newspaper reported.   Importantly, the lab did not do 2 tests, and these 2 tests could have proven that Chreky was not the father. Those test omissions were not mentioned in the lab’s report.

                       

This was a new one for me. Until a friend called the story to my attention, I would have told you that it was virtually impossible to reverse a finding of paternity. On that assumption, I had been unquestioningly recommending DNA testing to all clients who have come to me over the years with paternity issues. They’ve been few, but they’ve included men like Chreky who wanted to rule themselves out, as well as a few men who wanted to confirm their fatherhood, and many women who needed to prove responsibility for child support.

                       

I’ve been a family lawyer long enough to remember when blood tests were the only way to do this.  They required blood from three persons--mom, child and prospective dad. Some children (and some parents) hated being pricked by needles, and it took up to a month to get results.  So when it became available at least a dozen years ago, I welcomed DNA testing. It was less invasive, requiring only a swipe of the cheek with a cotton swab to collect the evidence. It was faster, with results available in as few as three business days. It was $200 to $300 cheaper than blood testing. And it was completely trustworthy and indisputable–or so I and many had come to believe.

 

The believers have included my clients. None have ever questioned their results.

But, as the Chreky case shows, our total faith may be misplaced, and a little skepticism may be in order.  DNA testing is like a surgeon’s scalpel.  In the right hands, it’s a marvelous tool, but used carelessly or by the wrong hands, it can hurt someone.  Obvious now also is that it can only be as good as the labs that do it.  That means they must employ adequate staffs, train them well, oversee them closely and follow strict professional procedures for tracking samples so that they aren’t misread or mixed up with each other.  

                       

I think the moral of Chreky’s story is that if you get a DNA test that’s too good–or too bad–to be true, check it out.  Get a second one, from a different lab. Be prepared, though, to spend at least $500 a test.  That’s not cheap, but it’s a pittance compared to the $170,000 to $338,000 the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates parents spend to raise a child in this country. And that’s just to age 17! 

                       

With stakes like that, children can use all the parents they can get. Toward that end, I’ll still recommend DNA testing--as long as it’s done by quality labs.