innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Friday, February 09, 2007

DNA propals stomp too heavily on rights

This editorial appeared in the Everett, Washington Herald on January 26, 2007:

DNA proposals stomp too heavily on rights

It's worrisome when state lawmakers propose bills that conflict with existing laws and/or civil rights.

Case in point:

Sens. Bob McCaslin and Jerome Devlin have introduced Senate Bill 5095, which would require a DNA sample be taken from anyone arrested for a felony or gross misdemeanor. The DNA would be entered in the Washington State Patrol's DNA database, which feeds the one used by the FBI.

Critics, which should be everyone, say such a law would violate people's Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

"The problem we have is that in our justice system, people are assumed innocent until proven guilty," said Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

We trust Kline was being sarcastic by saying the "problem we have" rather than the "beautiful thing we have" to describe the basis of our justice system. But he goes on to say, "I support the idea of the bill, but you can't help law enforcement all the time."

The "idea" of the bill, however, is overreaching, and thus bad.

Another proposal, House Bill 1023, would require DNA samples be taken from people actually convicted of a crime. But it also goes too far, adding gross misdemeanor convictions to existing law, which requires DNA samples be taken from convicted felons.

Supporters say the bills are designed to help authorities catch people who start by committing small crimes and move on to more serious ones, such as murder. Supporters say the House bill will help crack down on repeat offenders, will deter crime, will improve chances of convicting the right person and will lower costs in solving future cases.


What it will also do is collect the DNA of teens and adults arrested for shoplifting, or property crimes such as third-degree theft, the same as people convicted of assault, rape or murder.
Very little evidence shows that shoplifting leads to violence.

Narrowing the bill to cover felonies and violent misdemeanors would be a good compromise.
Rep. Mark Miloscia, D-Federal Way, who supports DNA collection upon arrest, makes us shudder:

"For anybody nowadays who watches TV, I don't have to explain how the use of this technology in a fair and balanced manner does help our society," Miloscia said. "With all those shows out there, it's hard to argue that this will harm anyone's civil liberties. The public pretty much understands it and understands the validity of it."

Yes, DNA testing is an unmatched tool in crime fighting. But demanding DNA samples from citizens is not constitutional, or fair. Nor does it guarantee justice.


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