Friday, January 13, 2017

DNA collection: Crime fighting or rights crushing?

Advocates for swabbing people for DNA as soon as they’re arrested, say it helps to solve hard-to-crack cases when other leads grow cold. Prosecutors and law enforcement officials say, it can help prevent crime by catching repeat offenders earlier in their criminal career, reported Stateline.
“We started back in old days with mug shots, then people’s fingerprints,” Meyer said. “Now in the 21st century, we need to start using DNA to the fullest extent.”
But opponents, including defense attorneys and civil rights groups, say that when people are swabbed for a DNA sample when they’re arrested, they are being treated as if they’re suspects in other crimes or even implicating themselves in crimes they may not be suspected of. 
“You can always collect DNA from someone convicted of a crime, so why do you need to frontload that and collect DNA from someone presumed innocent?” said Barry Pollack, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
States have been passing and expanding DNA collection programs over the past decade. In 2013, President Barack Obama signed a law that set aside $10 million a year for three years in federal funds that states could tap to launch or expand their DNA programs.
The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the practice, saying taking samples at the time of arrest doesn’t violate the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. “Taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee's DNA is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure,” the court wrote in a 2013 decision  Maryland v. King.
Opponents say the laws take a dragnet approach, and ensnare people who haven’t yet been convicted of a crime in other legal battles.
“What is happening is not that law enforcement is seeking evidence that the person committed the crime they were arrested for, but seeking evidence that this person committed some unrelated, unsolved crime,” said Pollack of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “It is neither going to strengthen the case against the person that has been arrested, nor weaken it. It has nothing to do with that case.”
Oklahoma last year passed a law requiring DNA collection upon arrest for a felony, with the sample to be automatically destroyed if charges are dismissed.
Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, said police already are able to get a warrant for DNA if it’s necessary for investigating a crime. Testing people whose DNA isn’t needed is a fishing expedition that will exacerbate existing backlogs, he said.
“You’re growing the haystack to where it’s even more difficult to find those needles,” he said.
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