SEATTLE (CBS Seattle/AP) — Police and prosecutors hope Washington will join the growing number of states that require people to give DNA samples as soon as they’re arrested for a serious crime, rather than waiting until they’re convicted.
Under bills before Washington’s Legislature, the state would collect DNA from people when they’re arrested for nearly all felonies or for violating a domestic violence protection order. Once a judicial officer finds that the arrest was supported by probable cause, the State Patrol crime lab could test the DNA to create a profile and enter that profile in a nationwide database used to help solve crimes. The cost of the measure — more than $400,000 a year — would be paid with money from traffic tickets.
The rush to expand DNA’s use in criminal investigations worries privacy advocates, and courts around the country have disagreed about whether such laws violate the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures. Many judges have found that routinely collecting DNA from convicts is OK because, among other reasons, committing a serious crime reduces their expectation of privacy. It’s not clear that reasoning would extend to people who have not been convicted and who are presumed innocent.
“The way judges come out depends in a sense on how much trust they have in the government,” says Penn State Law School professor DH Kaye, who tracks the issue. “Some judges say, ‘What’s the big deal? It’s like a fingerprint.’ But DNA samples contain a lot of information, and other judges say that sooner or later somebody is going to abuse the system.”
If the person is exonerated or not charged, they could petition to have the crime lab destroy their sample and profile. The lab would be obligated to do so, but could run a check on the profile first.
About half the states and the federal government have similar laws.
Washington’s proposal could face a tough a legal road if passed, because the state Constitution is very protective of people’s right to be free from intrusion by the government.
“There’s not a definite answer on the constitutional questions,” says Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist. “But the merits of this are so obvious it’s worth having it go up to the courts.”