DNA collection for violent crime arrests questioned

A June court decision from Maryland may influence legislative efforts throughout the region, as nearby Pennsylvania works to build a DNA database for criminal suspects who are arrested in the state. Legislators are looking to pass a provision that would allow DNA tracking for suspects who are simply arrested for felonies or offenses requiring registration – such as sex offenses. Those arrested would have their DNA collected and cataloged even though they may never be charged with violent crimes or other violations.

The proposed law changes have set off a firestorm of protests from advocates, who argue that the desire to track potential law-breakers should not trump the basic American right to privacy. Although Pennsylvania already collects and stores DNA information for those who have been convicted of felonies, this new program would exponentially expand the database. Experts in the field say that Pennsylvania’s proposed system would collect a vast amount of data – far more than that already collected by officers in Maryland. In many cases, individuals who never face formal charges may be required to submit to DNA tracking, which raises significant questions about personal rights versus the state’s interest in preventing aggravated assault, robbery, rape and other crimes.

Pennsylvania legislators have already failed to pass a similar resolution in 2012. The current bill may, in fact, be doomed before it is ever submitted, as representatives from the statehouse say that they anticipate the law failing before it is ever brought to a vote. Legislators say they are concerned about the requisite facility expansion and staff hiring processes that would be needed to accommodate such a massive increase in DNA sample analysis.

As the debate about individual rights proceeds in state courts throughout the nation, advocates for criminal defendants will continue to protect their clients’ rights in court and hopefully before they are ever charged. Such questionable DNA collection and tracking tactics may not comply with the constitutional principles that guarantee defendants access to an unbiased legal system, and they may also violate general constitutional provisions relating to the privacy of ordinary citizens.

Source:  TribLive, “DNA registry would help solve crimes, police, prosecutors say” Melissa Daniels, Jan. 04, 2014