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Should DNA evidence be taken from arrested felony suspects?

Posted in Solving Crime March 16th, 2009 @ 9:28 am

State lawmakers are working on expanding legislative bills to require persons to provide their DNA to law enforcement at the time of their arrest. The Hastings Center reported that in 2007, 91 DNA expansion bills were introduced in 36 states. Almost half of the bills include persons arrested for various felony offenses. More than a dozen states already allow law enforcement to collect DNA from suspects before they are convicted.

Currently, the state of Colorado has introduced “Katie’s Law”. This law would take DNA evidence from every arrested felony suspects. Katie Sepich was a graduate student at New Mexico State who was raped and murdered back in 2003. The killer’s DNA found beneath her fingernails and eventually led police to an arrest, three years later.

Since 2006, Katie’s Law has been adopted by 16 states and has been credited with hundreds of arrests along with 200 suspects exonerated for crimes they didn’t commit. DNA is a good technology that helps to solve crimes. Many law enforcement agencies say that it is easier to do and less intrusive than taking fingerprints at the time of an arrest.

However, state criminal defense groups and the American Civil Liberties Union feel that it is unconstitutional and against a person’s 4th Amendment right. Opponents to these bills claim that DNA is a lot more than a fingerprint because it reveals a person’s past, present and future history. In addition, taking DNA samples from someone who has not been convicted of a crime may pose legal retribution in the future.

Several Federal Laws such as the DNA Analysis Backlog Elimination Act of 2000, the 2001 U.S.A. Patriot Act and the Justice for All Act of 2004 allowed for further definition of qualifying offenders to include all persons convicted of felonies under federal law. Two recent federal actions again expanded DNA sample categories. When Congress renewed the Violence Against Women Act in 2006, it included an amendment that authorizes federal officials to collect DNA samples from individuals who are arrested and from non-United States persons detained under U.S. authority. In April 2008, the Department of Justice published a proposed rule directing certain U.S. law enforcement agencies to collect DNA samples from individuals who are arrested, facing charges, or convicted, and from non-United States persons who are detained under U.S. authority.

Then there is the cost of collecting DNA samples from everyone who is arrested. In Colorado, approximately 60,000 people are arrested on felony charges each year. The cost of collecting and testing DNA would be $1.8 million per year. With budget cuts, states don’t know where they will get the money. In addition to the cost, critics worry about the security of a government DNA database and the potential privacy invasion of people arrested, but never convicted of a crime.

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